Excerpted from Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, by Mark Kurlansky, copyright © 2012 by Mark Kurlansky, available May 8. Published by arrangement with Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc.
HE HAD WORKED for the United States government in the frontier West and as a fur trapper in Canada’s frigid Labrador, but the life of adventure seemed well behind Clarence Birdseye in 1920. That year, he switched jobs again and became the assistant to the president of the US Fisheries Association, a lobbying group that worked on improving the commercial fishing industry.
What caught Birdseye’s attention, what excited his imagination, was the problem of getting fresh fish to market in good condition. “The inefficiency and lack of sanitation in the distribution of whole fresh fish so disgusted me,” he explained 20 years later, “that I set out to develop a method which would permit the removal of inedible waste from perishable foods at production points, packaging them in compact and convenient containers, and distributing them to the housewife with their intrinsic freshness intact.”
That was the big Birdseye idea. If he could find a way to deliver fish to the customer in the same condition as it landed on the docks, many more people would eat fish and the fishing business could greatly expand. He developed an inexpensive container that would keep fish chilled until it arrived in market, but it was still not comparable to fresh fish. There had to be a better solution.
Later in life, Birdseye came up with a pet theory that the subconscious resembles an electronic calculator. “If you feed the right information into it,” he would say, “it will quietly go to work in mysterious ways of its own and, by and by, produce the answer to your problem.”
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