Facts That Figure: Refrigerators

Facts That Figure: Refrigerators

By: C.G. Hoffman

Who can imagine preparing for Yom Tov without a refrigerator or a freezer? Our grandparents managed just fine, with Yiddishe balabustas waking up before dawn on Erev Yom Tov to cook everything from scratch. Not to mention the chickens that had to be taken to the shochet, plucked by hand and then salted!

Ancient people devised different methods for keeping foods fresh. Ice harvesting, using ice or snow, was the only way to keep foods cool. Many cultures would build special ice houses, with insulated walls up to six feet thick, to keep winter-harvested ice cool throughout the summer.

Wealthy aristocrats would get their servants to cut ice from frozen lakes, and shlep the frozen blocks to specially constructed ice houses. The blocks were packed in salt, wrapped in flannel and stored underground until summer. Thomas Jefferson became famous for serving a fancy new dessert, ice cream, at his Monticello estate. Ice was cut from the nearby river in winter, and stored in icehouses until the summer, when the new-fangled icy treat was served to the amazement of his guests.

An English farmer invented the first ice box in 1805, as he wanted to keep his butter nice and firm throughout its trip to the market. Soon, almost every home in America had an icebox, and the iceman was an important fixture in every neighborhood. As the ice would melt, it would drip into trays, which had to be emptied before they overflowed.

The idea for a mechanical refrigeration machine has been around at least since 1805. The basic refrigerator as we know it today, based on a process of liquefying gas, was developed by a German engineer in 1876.

As more people moved into cities and further away from fresh food sources, refrigeration became especially important, both for homes and food transportation. The company Frigidaire® bought the rights to the compressor-variant refrigerator, and the “Fridge” was introduced to America. They were at first considered a luxury item that only the rich could afford, but slowly became more affordable. By the 1950’s 90% of American homes had one.

By the 1940’s refrigerators were running on Freon, replacing earlier versions which often relied on toxic and foul-smelling gases. Freon was phased out from 1992, as it was discovered that Freon was detrimental to the ozone layer around earth.

The first refrigerated trucks were invented for the ice cream industry, in 1925. Refrigerated transportation revolutionized the food industry, allowing perishable food to be transported over many miles without spoiling. Americans were now able to enjoy California avocados, Florida oranges, and Texas beef. It did, however, lead to the end of the cowboys, as live cattle didn’t have to be driven hundreds of miles anymore.

Early refrigerators were built to last, and the Frigidaire company even had a 4 ton elephant stand on one of their refrigerators! They then demonstrated that the doors still opened and shut to maintain the airtight seal.

Today’s refrigerators have joined the technology revolution. Now, they not only cool your food, they dispense water, make ice, and can send you pictures of what’s inside so you can decide on your dinner on your way home from work!

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