Fitz-Heller Thun (1864 - 1923) was born in Zürich, Switzerland and raised early on by two fathers due to a mix-up at the hospital. They both died within three years of his birth, though, during the Great "Everything's Okay" Purge of 1867/8. He spent the rest of his childhood in and out of orphanages where he enjoyed teasing the residents before heading home to his uncle's.
At 23 he moved to the United States upon hearing from some German friends about a mysterious light (Grundschein) emanating from the earth which was used to predict the weather. Always a keen amateur scientist with an eye towards unsubstantiated claims, he couldn't resist the opportunity to investigate.
Upon arriving in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania he realized he should have probably studied his German a bit more. Unimpressed by the small, furry Grundschwein which greeted him, he took up residence in Philadelphia where he became widely known as an immigrant.
He took a small job in the Weyrbranch Printing Company, saving money when possible to fund scientific excursions across New England. One of his earliest expeditions was to find the source of Boston harbor which, after months of sailing, he determined to be the Thames.
The next year he excavated the top fourteen inches of topsoil of the entire state of Rhode Island. He found the uncovered soil to be very similar to what was above, only lower.
The turning point in Thun's life, and what would consume it until the end, came in 1890 when his employer ran out of ice and asked Fitz-Heller to fetch him another block. A diary entry describes the moment of inspiration:
7 June 1890
Today I was asked to procure a bit of ice for Mr Weyrbranch, but the ice box was empty. The morning delivery had already come and been used for margaritas, thus we were dangerously close to being forced to drink warm lemonade. Neither he nor I can suffer such a drink and the stomach pains it brings, so we went out for ice cream instead. You know, as a treat for having no ice.
Haven't you done that before, diary? Day isn't going your way, so you pick it up and shake it by the scruff and say, "I'm going to have a good day today, dammit!, lemonade or no!" Anyway I got new wool pants for the summer.
What was I thinking of? Oh yes! I told Mr Weyrbranch on the way back from doing shooters that I was intent on creating a device for the home which would make it possible to have ice any time you wanted. It would be a small box which grew cold on its own and have the ability to freeze anything put inside.
Mr Weyrbranch liked the idea and agreed to give me a small bit of money to get started on research.
Thun set to work early the next week but ran into technical problems from the start. First, he realized he knew nothing about thermodynamics, chemistry, or electricity. Without funds enough to hire assistants, he forged ahead by trial and error. By December, he had his first taste of success.
14 December 1890
This morning I arrived at the laboratory to find a most amazing discovery: ice at last! As you will remember, last night I filled two small cups with water and placed them in the freezer-box, which I then left by the back door overnight. This morning they are frozen solid! My calculations must be getting more precise; pah! on those thick books of rules and equations. I must be more resolute on reaching my goal now more than ever. Will continue experiments through the winter.
By the spring of 1891, he was ready to unveil his device for Weyrbranch. On the morning of April 12th, Weyrbranch accompanied Thun to the laboratory where the freezer-box was opened yet again. But this time instead of ice, there appeared only two cups of plain, unfrozen water. Incensed at the apparent waste of money, Weyrbranch threatened to cut off all funding.
Thun apologized profusely and offered to move to a smaller lab further north, in Canada, where he could continue his research on less money. Weyrbranch reluctanctly agreed after Thun signed over the rights to his rare bean collection as collateral.
Seven months later, isolated in his new surroundings at Mont-Joli, Thun worked tirelessly to correct his previous mistakes. Success was not long in coming.
14 November 1891
The sisters Glory & Fortune have returned! The EFB (external freezer-box) is an unparalleled success! Almost too excited to write. I have made arrangements to send twelve ice samples by train to Weyrbranch. No more warm lemonade, sir!
Two weeks later, Thun received the following letter:
Why on earth have you sent me a dozen cold, soggy paper bags? You are cut off, effective immediately. Also, I am selling the beans.
Crushed, confused, and beanless, Thun continued to work without Weyrbranch's funding. He took up odd jobs in town to make ends meet, eventually becoming accepted, and beloved, as a harmless eccentric. He died on 28 February 1923, aged 59, still convinced he was on the right path.
26 February 1923 (Final Entry)
So cold. I am now so very cold. Oh, the window's open. I am near death, I know, and am completely without regret. There are many things in my life I wish I had done differently, many opportunites I missed and now deeply rue. First, passing up that free dictionary Weyrbranch offered me when I first came to work for him.
Also, I feel I should have given my uncle a forwarding address, or at the very least told him I was leaving. I'm sure he worried.
But one thing I shall never feel bad about is my research, my creation, my freezer-box. I am convinced that someday it will be perfected and will change the landscape of the American home on a grand scale. But that is for future generations. I must die content in the knowledge that I have put the wheels in motion; that I will be remembered for this, not the bodies.