Today in History: Einstein Received Patent for Safe Refrigerator
On November 11, 1930 — 84 years ago today — Albert Einstein (and his former student, Leó Szilárd) was granted a patent for a refrigerator design! The original refrigerator design was invented by Swedish engineering students, Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters, in the early 1920s, and developed into a manufacturing process by the AB Artic company, which was bought by Electrolux in 1925. Shortly after being on the market, this original refrigerator reportedly caused the deaths of a Berlin family after a moving-part seal in the refrigerator leaked toxic fumes into their home. Albert Einstein and his former student, Leó Szilárd, were distressed by this tragedy and vowed to improve on the refrigerator design to prevent such accidents in the future.
In the late 1920s and into the early 1930s, Einstein and Szilárd discussed ways to improve the refrigerator design and filed various patents on their proposals. Einstein had worked in the Swiss patent office in the early 1900s, so he was experienced in the patent process and was able to file all the paperwork necessary to receive valid patents. By the end of their collaboration on an improved refrigerator, Einstein and Szilárd had been granted 45 patents for 3 unique refrigerator models.
Each of the Einstein-Szilárd models was based on entirely different physical concepts — (1) absorption, (2) diffusion, and (3) electro-magnetism (of course!). All 3 models worked without moving parts, eliminating the failure of the moving-part that caused the family tragedy in the original refrigerator design. The most promising of their patents was bought by Electrolux, and a number of demonstration units were built based on their other patents. Technology evolved to make other designs more efficient, and none of the exact Einstein-Szilárd models ever came to mass market, probably because the Great Depression prohibited refrigerator purchases by average families. Nonetheless, Discover
magazine reported in 2008 that, at least, one electrical engineer thinks the Einstein refrigerator could be poised for a comeback because it does not rely on the gases that are linked to global warming.
•Google Patent Search: http://www.google.com/patents/US1781541