While we tend to think of freezing sperm as a technology of the 21st Century, it actually dates back to 1776 when an Italian priest recorded the effect of snow on human sperm.
He saw that it slowed its motions considerably but when re-warmed it was reinvigorated. Lazaro Spallanzani later went on to revolutionise scientific thinking about fertilisation and performed the first recorded experiments artificially inseminating animals.
Less than 100 years later another Italian scientist, Montegazza, described the possibility of establishing banks for frozen human semen. He even suggested "a man dying on a battlefield may beget a legal heir with his semen frozen and stored at home". Nowadays American Servicemen on their way to Iraq are routinely offered the opportunity to bank some sperm before leaving on their tour of duty.
Between 1938 and 1945 many scientists recorded sperm could survive freezing, but few could successfully fertilise an egg afterwards. The first major breakthrough in that area came in 1949 when a method was developed of using a syrupy substance known as glycerol to protect semen from injury during freezing. This was further refined in 1953 by Dr Jerome K Sherman, an American pioneer in sperm freezing. This research led to the first successful human pregnancy with frozen spermatozoa in 1953. However, because American courts had at the time ruled that inseminating women with donated sperm (not their husbands) was "contrary to public policy and good morals", it took another 10 years before news of the birth was made public.
The first sperm banks in the world were set up in Iowa and Tokyo in 1964. The first official sperm bank in Ireland was set up in 1998 at the Rotunda.