Personally, I cannot imagine life without a refrigerator. Meal prep wouldn’t be as possible as it is right now. How could we pull off preparing food on Sunday to last us all week if we didn’t have a refrigerator?
I’m thankful for the technology that makes life easier today, but I don’t know too much about how refrigerators came to be the norm. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Methods of cooling food for preservation and prevention of foodborne illness have been around for thousands of years.
Around 1,000 B.C. the Chinese began cutting and storing ice, followed by the Egyptians and Indians discovering that they could make ice by leaving earthenware pots out on cold nights nearly 500 years later.
Other civilizations stored snow in pits and covered them to insulate and preserve the snow. In the 17th century, Europeans discovered that dissolving saltpeter in water created cooling conditions that could create ice.
In the 18th century, Europeans began salting ice collected in the winter, wrapping it in flannel, and shipping it to locations around the world. This method kept the ice for months when stored underground.
When they didn’t have ice, people stored things in cellars or underwater. Some people, however, built wooden boxed lined with tin or zinc and an insulating material (such as sawdust, cork, or even seaweed). They would fill these boxed with snow or ice to keep things cool.
Sounds a lot like a refrigerator, right?
The first commercially produced, mechanical refrigerator began with Scottish doctor William Cullen in the mid-1700s who demonstrated evaporating ethyl ether in a vacuum.
The first refrigerator was designed—but not built—by American inventor Oliver Evans in the early 1800s. His design used vapor instead of liquid. Michael Faraday, an English scientist, liquefied ammonia to cause cooling.
Then, the “father of refrigeration” came along in 1835: Jacob Perkins, who worked with Oliver Evans. Perkins received the first patent for vapor-compression using liquid ammonia.
In 1842, the first patent for artificially made ice was given to John Gorrie, an American doctor who used ice created in his refrigerator to cool patients with yellow fever. From this point forward, refrigeration really heated up. Developments just kept coming and the device was used in more and more homes around the world.
Breweries are believed to be the driver behind refrigeration. The first one was installed in a Brooklyn brewery in 1870 and nearly all breweries had them by 1900. Just 20 years later, refrigerators were considered a home staple. The first one was released in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1911 by General Electric. Today, nearly 20% of world energy consumption goes towards refrigeration and home cooling and 99% of homes have a refrigerator.
Kayleigh is a content writer with a BA in technical writing/literature and an MA in creative writing. When she’s not at work writing, she’s at home writing, reading, or binge-watching television shows… for research, of course. A big do-it-yourselfer and crafter, Kayleigh loves testing out projects and gifting them to friends and family—all in preparation for when she owns her own home one day and decorates with her own personal creations. Her work has appeared on The Writing Cooperative and as an Honorable Mention in East Meets West American Writers Review.