One midsummers day a fleet of United States war-ships were lying at anchor in Guantanamo Bay, on the southern coast of Cuba. The sky was cloudless, and the tropic sun shone so fiercely on the decks that the bare-footed Jackies had to cross the unshaded spots on the jump to save their feet.

An hour before the quavering mess-call sounded for the midday meal, when the sun was shining almost perpendicularly, a boat's crew from one of the cruisers were sent over to the supply-ship for a load of beef. Not a breath was stirring, the smooth surface of the bay reflected the brazen sun like a mirror, and it seemed to the oarsmen that the salt water would scald them if they should touch it. Only a few hundred yards separated the two vessels, yet the heat seemed almost beyond endurance, and the shade cast by the tall steel sides of the supply-steamer, when the boat reached it, was as comforting as a cool drink to a thirsty man. The oars were shipped, and one man was left to fend off the boat while the others clambered up the swaying rope-ladder, crossed the scorching decks on the run, and went below. In two minutes they were in the hold of the refrigerator-ship, gathering the frost from the frigid cooling-pipes and snowballing each other, while the boat-keeper outside of the three-eighth-inch steel plating was fanning himself with his hat, almost dizzy from the quivering heat-waves that danced before his eyes. The great sides of beef, hung in rows, were frozen as hard as rock. Even after the strip of water had been crossed on the return journey and the meat exposed to the full, unobstructed glare of the sun the cruiser's messcooks had to saw off their portions, and the remainder continued hard as long as it lasted. But the satisfaction of the men who ate that fresh American beef cannot be told.

Cream from a famous dairy is sent to particular patrons in Paris, France, and it is known that in one instance, at least, a bottle of cream, having failed to reach the person to whom it was consigned, made the return transatlantic voyage and was received in New York three weeks after its first departure, perfectly sweet and good. Throughout the entire journey it was kept at freezing temperature by artificial means. These are but two striking examples of wonders that are performed every day.

Cold, of course, is but the absence of heat, and so refrigerating machinery is designed to extract the heat from whatever substance it is desired to cool. The refrigerating agent used to extract the heat from the cold chamber must in turn have the heat extracted from it, and so the process must be continuous.

Water, when it boils and turns into steam or vapour, is heated by or extracts heat from the fire, but water vapourises at a high temperature and so cannot be used to produce cold. Other fluids are much more volatile and evaporate much more easily. Alcohol when spilt on the hand dries almost instantly and leaves a feeling of cold—the warmth of the hand boils the alcohol and turns it into vapour, and in doing so extracts the heat from the skin, making it cold; now, if the evaporated alcohol could be caught and compressed into its liquid form again you would have a refrigerating machine.

Alcohol is expensive and inflammable, and many other volatile substances have been discarded for the one or the other reason. Of all the fluids that have been tried, ammonia has been found to work most satisfactorily; it evaporates at a low temperature, is non-inflammable, and is comparatively cheap.

The hold of the supply-ship mentioned at the head of this chapter was a vast refrigerator, but no ice was used except that produced mechanically by the power in the ship. To produce the cold in the hold of the ship it was necessary to extract the heat in it; to accomplish this, coils ran round the space filled with cold brine, which, as it grew warm, drew the heat from the air. The brine in turn circulated through a tank containing pipes filled with ammonia vapour which extracted the heat from it; the brine then was ready to circulate through the coils in the hold again and extract more heat. The heat-extracting or cooling power of the ammonia is exerted continually by the process described below. Ammonia requires heat to expand and turn into vapour, and this heat it extracts from the substance surrounding it. In this marine refrigerating machine the ammonia got the heat from the brine in the tank, then it was drawn by a pump from the pipes in the tank, compressed by a power compressor, and forced into a second coil. The second coil is called a condenser because the vapour was there condensed into a fluid again. Over the pipes of the condenser cool water dripped constantly and carried off the heat in the ammonia vapour inside the coils and so condensed it into a fluid again—just as cold condenses steam into water. The compressor-pump then forced the fluid, ammonia through a small pipe from the condenser coils to the cooling coils in the tank of brine. The pipes of the cooling coils are much larger than those of the condenser, and as the fluid ammonia is forced in a fine spray into these large pipes and the pressure is relieved it expands or boils into the larger volume of vapour and in so doing extracts heat from the brine. The pump draws the heated vapour out, the compressor makes it dense, and the coils over which the cool water flows condenses it into fluid again, and so the circuit continues—through cooler, pump, compressor, and condenser, back into the cooling-tank.