A Brief History Of The Refrigerator

Victorian Icebox A typical Victorian style icebox made of oak and lined with zinc or tin.

Before the advent of the refrigerator, food was kept fresh through the use of icehouses or iceboxes, most of which were built outdoors up against bodies of freshwater to keep cool. The first of these storage units were packed with snow during the winter with later versions using chunks of ice brought down from the mountains. In 1748, the first artificial form of refrigeration was born by one of the early refrigeration inventors, William Cullen at the University of Glasgow. Throughout the 19th Century, the development of cooling technology exploded, resulting in much advancement in both air conditioning and refrigeration. By 1911, the first home refrigerators were being manufactured by General Electric, selling for around $1,000 nearly twice as much as an automobile at the time.

Up through the late 1920s, most refrigerators used combinations of toxic gases as refrigerants . After several fatal accidents involving gas leaks, Frigidaire, General Motors, and DuPont joined forces to find a safer solution. This solution was named Freon. Unlike its predecessors, Freon is colorless, odorless, nonflammable, noncorrosive, and best of all, nontoxic. Frigidaire patented the substance and General Motors and DuPont began Freon production in 1930 under the new company name, Kinetic Chemical.

Refrigerator and freezer units became more common at home during World War II, going into mass-production in the mid-1940s. Around this time, Albert Einstein had designed his own form refrigerator (known only as "Einstein's Refrigerator") which required no moving parts or electricity. He sold the patent to Electrolux , though it didn't last long in commercial production. Electrolux held on to the design mostly to keep it out of the hands of its competitors. Einstein used the royalties acquired by the patent to help fund the Manhattan Project, which brought about the development of the atomic bomb.

In the 1970s and 80s, discoveries were made linking CFC-compound gases (like Freon) to the depletion of the ozone layer. In the early 1990s, environmental concerns lead to the ban of Freon. Since then, modern refrigerators have used variations of tetrafluoroethane as a refrigerant.

Today, refrigerators have grown from more than a luxury and into a common necessity to every household. Technology has made the refrigerator both affordable to buy, but also energy-efficient, thanks to Energy Star standards.