A Brief History of the Refrigerator

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A Brief History of the Refrigerator


Nowadays refrigerators have become so common that we don’t even wonder about its origins. Before refrigerators were invented, people used to keep their food items in the ice houses to keep them fresh. These ice houses were mostly situated close to water bodies preferrable lakes and rivers and were filled with ice during the winter season.
In the early days, a refrigerator was called an Icebox and was made of wood. It was insulated and lined with zinc or tin and had a compartment that held ice cubes. These ice cubes were delivered by the iceman just like any other products such as milk or bread. The refrigerator cabinet had a drip pan below the compartment which was used to hold the water from the melted ice. This pan needed to be emptied every day.

In these times, if you didn’t have an icebox whatever food wasn’t eaten was spoiled and thrown away. It was in the year 1748 when the first ever form of artificial refrigeration was invented by the Scottish professor, William Cullen. He achieved artificial refrigeration by creating a partial vacuum over a container containing diethyl ether which when boiled consumed all the heat in the air and created a cold vacuum. By this experiment, William Cullen was able to make artificial ice but in that period of time, this technology didn’t have many applications.

By the beginning of the 29th century, Jacob Perkins made the world’s first vapor-compression cooling system followed by the first useful cooling system make by James Harrison who used a vapor compression system that used ether and alcohol or ammonia. He also designed and made a mechanical ice-maker which he later on presented to breweries for commercial purposes.

Though this technology was revolutionary for the breweries and meat packing industries, it also carried a huge risk as until then refrigerators were using a combination of toxic gases as the refrigerants which caused several fatal accidents on leakage. Nathaniel B Wales was the first person to present the idea of a self-contained refrigerator unit. This type of refrigerator included a compressor at the bottom. William C.

Durant started a refrigerator company with this idea called a Frigidaire. This was the first company to mass-produce commercial refrigerators ever. Later on, the Kelvinator company brought automatic control systems in the refrigerators which made them a big hit between the consumers. As time went by the General Electric company showed interest in the refrigerator market and created what was called the Monitor Top refrigerator.

This refrigerator required the motor and the compressor of the refrigerator to be installed in the basement and the rest of the cabinet in the kitchen.

Since the refrigerants used in the refrigerators were made of toxic gases, a new alternative was created called the freon gas. Freon was a much safer refrigerant than its predecessors. In the mid-1940s freezers were introduced as an inbuilt part of the refrigerator and they soon became a common part of everyone’s daily life.

In the 1970s researchers found out that CFCs such as freon was causing ozone layer depletion and thus as a result freon was banned. Modern refrigerators started using a mixture of tetrafluoromethane as a refrigerant that is as good as freon if not better and also doesn’t poses any threat to the ozone layer.

From being an item of luxury, refrigerators have evolved throughout the past century and have become a common necessity of every household. Even now, different manufacturers try to implement new features in their refrigerators to make them stand apart from the rest of the competition. Smart refrigerators, intelligent cooling are some of the buzzwords currently floating around in the refrigerator industry.

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