Reefer freight, such as refrigerated trucks, trailers and shipping containers are used to ship items that require a temperature controlled environment. Reefer freight is vital nowadays due to the time and temperature sensitive freight being shipped all around the world.

Many logistics’ companies rely on reefer freight but where did it all start?

The 1800’s

Swift Refrigerator Line circa 1899

Swift Refrigerator Line circa 1899

In the early 1800’s ice and salt were placed under and alongside cargo with the aim to reduce spoilage. However this was, of course, impractical. Livestock were dying in transit costing farmers a loss of profit and meat was going off before reaching its final destination.

People had been trying throughout the 1800’s to find the most efficient way to ship perishable goods while maintaining the necessary temperatures.

The first insulated boxcar entered service in 1851 but with limited success due to it only being functional in cold weather. But, this was the start of temperature controlled vehicles.


The first patent for refrigerated rail cars was granted in 1867 to J.B Sutherland from Detroit. His design for reefers included a special holding area for ice at each end of the purpose built box car.


In 1876 the first attempt to ship refrigerated meat was made from Australia to the UK. Unfortunately the refrigeration machine broke down on the way and the cargo was lost.  But, only 1 year later frozen meat was successfully carried from Argentina to France.

2 years later in 1879 frozen meat was successfully shipped from Sydney to the UK in a ship equipped with compression refrigeration.


The refrigerated fruit ship traffic reached 90,000 tons per year to the US in 1899. This proves what a necessity reefer freight is to the fruit import industry, even in the 1800’s.

The early 1900’s

The first refrigerated banana ship was sailed from Jamaica to the UK in 1901. The following year saw the United Fruit Company have refrigerated banana boats built in the UK to add to their fleet.

The 1920’s

Refrigerated trailers were alternatives to congested train systems by the 1920’s.

The 1930’s

Mid-way through the 1930’s the first portable air-cooling unit was invented by Fred Jones. These units were placed on the outside of trucks that carried perishable foods. By the late 1930’s refrigerated trailers were reaching 38-40 feet in length. For comparison, modern day reefer trailers are usually between 48 and 55 feet in length.

By 1935 the UK was totalling 1,000,000 metric tons of refrigerated imports. This was down to the improvements that have been made in reefer freight.


The 1940’s saw a lot of change in the reefer freight industry. The first van with a wet ice bunker was built by the Steel Products Company. They also built the first factory-finished refrigerated van named the Great Dane Reefer.

Furthermore, refrigerated vehicles were used widely in late WWII to transport food, blood and medical supplies to the US and Allied Forces as well as increasing the growth of the frozen food industry.


In 1980 33% if refrigerated transport capacity in maritime shipping was containerised compared to 90% in 2010.

Modern Day

maersk-reefer-container-161031100906_bigTechnology in cold chain logistics is vital. Allfresch Group, the partner company of Allfresch Logistics rely on reefer freight to import fresh fruit and vegetables.

Reefer freight is a great asset to the logistics industry around the world. Without it we would not have fruit, vegetables, dairy, seafood and meat among other things that we enjoy on a daily basis. Reefer freight is also vital for the import of non-food products including pharmaceuticals and flowers.

For more information on Reefer freight or if you would like any guidance on moving your goods by sea, land or air you can contact us on +44 (0) 1952 461 715 or contact us via email.

Image source: Creative Zest ‘A brief history’.