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The Origin of Refrigerators

Nov 18, 2016

      By the mid-nineteenth century,the term"icebox"had entered the American language,but ice was still only beginning to affect the diet of ordinary citizens in theUnited States.The ice trade grew with the growth of cities.Ice was used in hotels,taverns,and hospitals,and by some forward looking city dealers in fresh meat,freshfish,and butter. 

      After the Civil War(1861-1865),asice was used to refrigerate freight cars, it also came into household use.Even before 1880, half theice sold in New York,Philadelphia,and Baltimore,and one-third of that sold inBoston and Chicago,went to families for their own use.This had become possible because a newhousehold convenience, the icebox, a precursor of the modern refrigerator,had been invented.Making an efficient iceboxwas not as easy as we might now suppose.

      In the early nineteenth century, the knowledge of the physics of heat, which was essential to a science of refrigeration, was rudimentary.The commonsense notion that the best icebox was one that prevented the ice from melting was of coursemistaken, for it was the melting of the ice that performed the cooling. Nevertheless, early efforts to economize ice included wrapping the ice in blankets, which kept the ice from doing its job.Not until near the end of the nineteenth century did inventors achieve the delicate balance of insulation and circulation needed for an efficient icebox.

      But as early as 1803, aningenious Marylandfarmer, Thomas Moore, had been on the right track. He owned a farm about twentymiles outside the city of Washington, for whichthe village of Georgetown was the market center.When he used an icebox of his own design totransport his butter to market, he found that customers would pass up the rapidly melting stuff in the tubs of his competitors to pay a premium price for his butter, still fresh and hard in neat, one-pound bricks.One advantage of his icebox, more explained,was that farmers would no longer have to travel to market at night in order tokeep their produce cool.