The History of the Refrigerator

Refrigerators. 99.9% of all American households have eagerly embraced these incredible and necessary appliances. When I think of important appliances, microwaves and refrigerators easily come to mind. How could men, women and children exist without these wonderful inventions? The history of the microwave only dates back to the end of WWII but the history of the refrigerator can be traced back much further. People in the past had to rely on snow and ice in order to keep their provisions palatable. But people eventually sought a more efficient way of handling that task. Primitive experimentation involving refrigeration takes us back to March of 1626. A Scottish doctor/chemist named William Cullen tinkered with the notion of refrigeration at a demonstration in 1748. But it really wasn’t until the benchmark years of 1834, 1851 and 1911, that refrigerators really became a reality.

I must give Oliver Evans some credit. This inventor conceived the idea for a refrigeration machine that ran on vapor in 1805 but he never actually built one. The world would have to wait 29 more years until Jacob Perkins invented an ice making machine in 1834. Dr. John Gorrie is considered the father of BOTH air conditioning and refrigeration. He received two different patents for his ice machines. The first in 1850 and the second one in 1851. Originally, it was an invention that would bring relief to patients suffering from yellow fever. Besides being a medical doctor, he was also a scientist, inventor and a humanitarian. He was almost overly involved in civic matters in Florida. He held many officesincluding mayor and postmaster. Carl von Linde devoted many years of his life to this noble endeavor. He was a full professor of mechanical engineering. He taught his students about the theory of refrigeration machines. The government helped him with his research. He founded a company that still bears his name. As of 4 years ago, his company had assets of 12.2 billion dollars and 47,000 employees. He was truly a giant in the history of refrigerators. General Electric and a French monk also made history in 1911. I couldn’t find any detailed information regarding that famous monk whose name was Abbe Audiffren. I went to a French site and it claimed that his machine was the first of its type. That site gave the historical year as 1905 instead of 1911. As with many other historical inventions, national pride and honest errors routinely take place.

According to, two of the first home refrigerators were utilized in Indiana. According to this site, approximately 24 different types of home refrigerators were available for consumers back in 1916. Only four years later, the number of different models swelled to over two hundred. Freezers were introduced during the 1920s but mass production would not occur until after the beginning of WWII. Refrigeration technology became really exciting during the 1950s and 1960s. Automatic defrost and automatic ice makers first appeared during that era.

A very colorful and informative site provides beautiful pictures and a little bit of historical information regarding each model that has been lovingly restored to its original beauty. Among those featured are a 1925 Seeger Icebox, 1926 General Electric Icebox, and a 1927 Frigidaire AP-7 Refrigerator. Representing the 1950s: a 1950 Crosley, a 1955 ColdSpot and a 1956 Hotpoint Combination. The pictures feature an inside and outside view of each unit as well as multiple exterior shots in some cases. Refrigeration history is very much alive and well. This unique site provides all sorts of useful information for people who are trying to restore individual pieces of history.

There is also a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of refrigeration history. It is called the Refrigeration Research Museum and it is located in Brighton, Michigan. It contains a private collection of refrigerators dating from the late 19th century up to 1960. Tours are available by appointment only. But it would be worth the trip. This museum’s policy is very intriguing and very interesting to avid fridge fans. Many of these wonderful old relics are actually operating.

An amazing aspect of refrigerator history could conceivably take place in the near yet still distant future. Glancing at articles available online, I noticed considerable interest and excitement (it seemed that way to me) regarding the Brownian refrigerator. It would become the world’s smallest fridge. Two theoretical physicists, Chris Van den Broeck and Ryoichi Kawai, have laid an intriguing foundation for a device that would be the size of a molecule. What purpose would this miniscule refrigerator actually serve? It would be utilized in order to cool down semiconductor chips. This information regarding current and future nanotechnology refrigeration theories could end up in the historical annals of refrigerator lore some day. Refrigerators and refrigerator-freezers are the most popular appliances in the world. Approximately 60 million units are manufactured every single year. Nearly 500 million refrigerator-freezers are being utilized around the world.