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Throwback Thursday: The History of Refrigeration

During the summer months, refrigeration is probably on our minds more than ever. Workers in offices everywhere often pass their colleagues with throw-away comments such as “It’s a hot one today!” or “I wish I could sit in the fridge!”. This classic summertime statement may lead you to wonder where we would be without our trusty refrigerator, or even where it all began… This week’s heatwave-inspired Throwback Thursday will answer those questions! Today we’re looking at the history of the fridge, so let’s find out more… 

The practice of storing ice and cooling food and drink has been around for thousands of years. It started around 1000 BCE in China, where people would cut and store ice. Five hundred years later, the Egyptians and Indians would leave earthenware pots outside during cold nights, having learned that ice would gather. It’s also thought that Greeks, Hebrews and Romans had their methods of cooling, involving a snow pit. 

The concept of mechanical refrigeration, not quite as we know it today but closer than a snow pit, came about in the 1720s. Scottish doctor, William Cullen, noticed that when evaporation takes place, it provides a cooling effect, and in 1748, he demonstrated his findings.

Between 1805 and the 1820s, both American inventor Oliver Evans and English inventor Michael Faraday, made contributions to the cold cause with a prototype design and liquid ammonia for cooling. However, our father of the fridge credit goes to Oliver Evans’ colleague, Jacob Perkins. In 1835, he patented a vapour compression cycle that used liquid ammonia. Whether Evans and Faraday took that lightly or not, we couldn’t comment. 

The models that followed were certainly more complex-looking to a 21st-century onlooker, as they had moving parts to aid the cooling process and weren’t electric. It wasn’t until 1913 that the first electric refrigerator for domestic use was invented, by American Fred W. Wolf. Unfortunately, his model was a flop. However, one feature - the ice cube tray - was picked up and included in competitors’ models. 

By 1922, Swedish inventors Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters had come up with the absorption refrigerator. A year later, these appliances went on to be mass-produced by AB Arctic. The fridges were still using a vapour compression system and moving parts. Several of them caused fatal accidents when the toxic gases leaked out. In an attempt to prove Munters’ and von Platen’s design as dangerous, Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd created the “Einstein Refrigerator”, which had no moving parts and a constant pressure using only a heat source. 

Clearly, there were still some kinks to iron out, but finally, by 1945, full mass production of safe, bottom-cooling fridges (which we know today) was in full swing. In America, more than 90% of urban homes had a refrigerator by 1950; however, in Britain, things were not quite as chilled. Due to the austerity of the time, only 2% of households had one, instead, pantries were commonplace. 

In the 1970s, the focus turned to more energy-efficient refrigerators. By this time, the concern for the environment had started to spike, with the discovery of the threat to the ozone layer. Today, we are more familiar with smart appliances, including fridge models that have cameras to help keep track of when food is about to spoil. We still see the push for environmentally friendly designs, a designer in Russia has plans for a Zero-Energy Bio Refrigerator, a concept which uses a cooling gel that suspends and cools food. Futuristic enough to give you goosebumps!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Throwback Thursday! For information on the Goodfellow catalogue, get in touch with the team today. Alternatively, you can view our products online, right here.