Birdseye grew up in an inventor's culture in America that valued practical and commercial applications; in Europe, the approach of inventors was far more theoretical. In the US, a successful inventor was one that founded an industry, such as Edison and electricity, or Eastman and film photography. Birdseye also grew up during the "Age of Extermination"; he couldn't remember a time when he didn't love to hunt. He romanticized the West, and his first hero was Buffalo Bill Cody.
By the time he became a teenager, Birdseye was fascinated with science. During college, he was so curious about insects that he was called "Bugs" by his peers (He was also called "Spots", which he didn't mind as much). Birdseye didn't like the nickname "Bugs", and he was in a tough situation, in that he was an extrovert, but he kept to himself to avoid ridicule. In 1908, family financial troubles forced Birdseye to drop out of Amherst College in Massachusetts; he would never again pursue formal education. Very soon thereafter, he went West, looking for adventure while he was still young.
Those in the Survey knew that these animals didn't really present a threat to livestock, but they continued anyway, since that was what the Agriculture Dept. wanted.
Birdseye figured out how to make money with coyote furs by paying Natives fifty cents, which was twice their asking price. Once he had those furs, he sent them to NYC, and they were sold for $1.25 each. When he found something exotic, he always wondered what it would taste like, and which was the best method to cook the animal or plant. Birdseye was astounded to discover the reliance (addiction?) of Westerners to canned food from the East, but as it turned out, he loved the canned food as well. In 1910, Birdseye linked up part-time with the National Geographic Society (formed in 1888), and he explored, investigated new ideas, took photos, and didn't have to worry about politics . . . it was everything Birdseye loved.
medical project trying to figure out the cause of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. He was allowed unrestricted hunting of wildlife; in other words, there wasn't any limit for Birdseye in terms of shooting animals. It turned out that this job was VERY dangerous - it was the first formal scientific study of the disease, which killed 20% of those infected. The disease appeared and spread in the 1870s when the lumber industry exploded in the region. In 1889, a tick was discovered on a patient, and years later it was determined that Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was caused by being bitten by a tick.
Among the many new fields of study that burst upon the scene at the turn of the century was Entomology; in 1909, "Medical Entomology" took root in the Bitterroot Region of Montana, providing the first comprehensive study of ticks. The medical profession at large, as well as the locals, scoffed at these "Bug People", believing that there was no way ticks were the cause of a disease that was so deadly. A twenty-three year old Birdseye was among those that the Biological Survey sent to Montana in 1910. Few were willing to go since it was so dangerous in the field, especially in the Bitterroot Mountains. Birdseye killed about every type of mammal in the region, getting samples of ticks afterwards. As a result of Birdseye's work with two other men, it was proven that ticks caused the disease. Ticks fed on small animals, and worked their way up to larger ones, meaning it was a two-year cycle. It was determined that if a tick fed on a person for a few hours, it was very likely that a person would contract the disease.
Ranchers refused to recognize the findings, due to the cost of using the recommended repellent. But in the end, there was no real solution other than to follow the Biological Survey's recommendations, since the source was identified, and a repellent developed; the disease vanished in the area as a result. But the dangerous work had to continue in 1911, and Birdseye returned to Montana; he eventually recommended that small animals, especially gophers, should be exterminated, leaving the large animals alone. What makes his recommendation somewhat ironic is that the Biological Survey eventually became the Fish & Wildlife Service, whose mission is to regulate protected environments.
Harris Hammond of Gloucester, Massachusetts, backed Birdseye with $750 ($18k today); it was the beginning of the Harris & Birdseye Fur Company. Birdseye procured foxes by traveling by dogsled weeks at a time; he learned about foxes and survival in the winter by asking questions of anyone he encountered. He specialized in sucking volumes of information from those that were even reluctant to provide answers. It was at about this time that Birdseye changed his first name to Bob - probably because Bob is more approachable than Clarence.
(Below: A brief biography of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell)
In 1914, the fur industry collapsed in Europe and NYC, but Birdseye saw opportunity in America-at-large. He killed his current number of silver foxes, and purchased as many other furs as possible at the deflated prices due to the collapse of the industry after being staked $8000 ($185k today). He froze the small animals in snow for shipment, and in essence, he cornered the fur market in Labrador. In 1915, Birdseye went back home to marry Eleanor (they had been putting off marriage for awhile); he was twenty-nine years old. As it turned out, Birdseye would get his best ideas after marrying Eleanor, since he was thinking beyond himself and his needs.
Birdseye (with Eleanor) went back to Labrador, and built a solid, three-room house, which would protect them in the long winters. He wanted his family (now with son Kellogg) to eat well, and he also needed to learn how to preserve food to feed his new silver foxes. His food concerns were of an immediate nature; he wasn't thinking (yet) of launching a new food industry.
Birdseye spent months trying to figure out the mystery of the "Live Frozen Fish" of the area Natives; the fish that these Natives had frozen actually swam around normally when thawed. One of the things Birdseye noticed was that food wasn't as good if it was frozen early or late in the winter . . . finally he made the connection. When food was frozen instantly (e.g. when winter was at its coldest), it stayed fresh when it was thawed. He knew that it had something to do with the size of the crystals; salting food (the opposite of freezing) required large crystals, while freezing needed very small crystals . . . when food "Quick-Freezes", crystallization is at its smallest.
In 1917, Birdseye went back to the U.S.; freezing food was on the "back-burner" in his mind. He started work for the U.S. Fisheries, trying to solve the problem of how to get fresh fish to far-away markets in good condition. If he could figure that out, people would eat more fish, and the industry would expand, as would his reputation as a problem-solver. After numerous failures, he remembered "Quick-Freezing" in Labrador.
Frozen food already existed in the U.S., but most Americans gave it "Two Thumbs Down" for quality. Various methods of freezing food fast had been in tried for years in the fledgling frozen food industry. One method was to fast-freeze fish in salt and ice, which was sold in 1915, when Birdseye was in Labrador. The main reason why Birdseye didn't pursue frozen food earlier than he did was due to its horrible reputation with the American consumer.
Birdseye found that if he quickly reached twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit as fast as possible, small crystals formed around the food very quickly. He also found that smaller amounts of food froze (crystallized) faster and better than larger amounts (he would eventually freeze peas one at a time). In 1924, Birdseye took out a patent on his process, and by freezing one fish at a time, he had frozen fish on the market that same year. Despite all his advances and successes in the science of frozen food, Birdseye Seafoods went broke within a year; he just couldn't overcome the negative consumer opinions towards frozen food.