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H10484 Cold air machine, steam powered, for refrigerating ships' cargoes, cast iron / steel / wood, made by Haslam Foundry & Engineering Co Ltd, Derby, England, 1882-1895. Click to enlarge.

Haslam steam-powered refrigeration machine

Alfred Haslam's cold air machine was the first commercially successful system for refrigerating ships' cargoes. Although it was soon superseded by compression systems that used refrigerants such as ammonia rather than air, it helped establish international trade in unsalted meat, butter, and other perishable produce, contributing to the globalisation of industry. In Australia's case, this technology reinforced its position as a supplier of mineral and agricultural products to, and consumer of …


Object No.


Object Statement

Cold air machine, steam powered, for refrigerating ships' cargoes, cast iron / steel / wood, made by Haslam Foundry & Engineering Co Ltd, Derby, England, 1882-1895

Physical Description

This Haslam cold air machine was designed to produce 2000 cubic feet (57,000 litres) of cold air per hour. It consists of a vertical single-cylinder double-acting steam engine, cold-air compressor, heat exchanger, expander and water pump. The steam engine drives a crankshaft, which drives the tandem arrangement for compression and expansion of air, which acts as the refrigerant. The compression cylinder is mounted above the expansion cylinder, and their pistons are attached to a common rod. An eccentric on the crankshaft actuates the steam slide valve, which controls the admission of steam to the engine's cylinder.

Air at atmospheric pressure is drawn into the compression cylinder through an intake valve. As it is compressed, its temperature rises. The hot compressed air then passes to the water-cooled heat exchanger. The cooled air is admitted to the expansion cylinder through expansion and cut-off valves. As the piston rises, the cut-off valve stops the admission of compressed air to the cylinder, which reduces the pressure, and thus the temperature, of the air. Subsequently, near top dead centre, the expansion valve opens and, on the downward stroke of the piston, the cold air is expelled.

The temperature of the delivered air is controlled by the timing of the opening of the cut-off valve. The cycle theoretically follows the reversed Brayton cycle, comprising isentropic compression, constant pressure cooling, isentropic expansion and, finally, constant pressure discharge to either refrigerant coils or discharge into a cold room. An isentropic process is a reversible adiabatic process, or a reversible process having no heat exchange with the working fluid.

All cylinders have 250 mm stroke. Cylinder bores are: steam 120 mm, compression 235 mm, expansion 155 mm. The expansion cylinder has wood lagging over a straw-like insulating material. There are two flywheels.



2000 mm


1100 mm


1000 mm


1350 kg



The Haslam Foundry & Engineering Co Ltd was established in 1868 and, according to the Derbyshire Record Office, was still in business in 1935. Its founder was Alfred Seale Haslam (1844 - 1927). During the late 1870s the company took out licences for Bell-Coleman cold air machines, and it supplied the marine market from 1881. Alfred Haslam took out a patent in 1882 that covered certain improvements to the machines, particularly the introduction of external water-cooling of the compressor, replacing internal cooling by spraying jets of water into the compressor. His company made machines whose output ranged from 2000 to 300,000 cubic feet per hour.

The earliest recorded patent for a refrigeration machine in Great Britain was granted to Jacob Perkins (No 6662) in 1834. Perkins was a gifted and prolific inventor who had very little formal schooling. His 1834 description of the vapour compression cycle for refrigeration and ice-making was revolutionary. This machine, which used ethyl ether as the refrigerant, comprised a hand operated compressor, a water cooled condenser and an evaporator contained in a liquid cooler.

In 1855 James Harrison in Australia patented an ether vapour compression ice-making machine that enjoyed commercial success for 45 years. His 1873 attempt to ship refrigerated meat from Australia to England failed because he sent ice, rather than an ice-making machine, on the ship, and the ice ran out before the voyage ended.

The first open-cycle 'air machine' was invented by John Gorrie, an American physician, in order to cool brine to a temperature of minus 7 degrees Celsius. Gorrie patented versions of his machine in 1850 and 1851.

In 1861 Dr Alexander Kirk, of England, developed a closed-cycle ice machine based on the hot air engine developed by Robert Stirling. In France Paul Giffard also played a key role in the development of closed-cycle gas technology.

In 1877 Glasgow butchers Henry and James Bell and engineer James Coleman patented an air-gas machine. The Bells were keen to refrigerate meat for shipping to Britain from the USA or Australia, and Coleman worked at the Bathgate shale-oil refinery near Glasgow, where a Harrison machine was installed.



This machine was installed in a ship (said to be the tug Flying Scotsman, but it is not appropriate equipment for a tug, and there does not appear to have been a ship by that name in Australian waters) possibly owned by the Adelaide Steamship Company Ltd. It was donated to the University of Technology (later called the University of New South Wales) around 1957. Student Keith Robson returned the machine to operating order in 1979 as a Bachelor of Engineering project under the supervision of Professor Graham de Vahl Davis. This involved total disassembly, remanufacture of two valves, minor repairs to some other parts, reassembly and commissioning of the machine. The University donated the engine to the Museum in 1984.


Credit Line

Gift of University Of New South Wales, 1984

Acquisition Date

26 November 1984

Cite this Object


Haslam steam-powered refrigeration machine 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 June 2022, <>


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