Many famous inventors have created the appliances, devices, and tools that we use daily. Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, George Washington Carver are a few examples of such inventors. However, there are plenty of inventors that aren’t as recognizable, but their creations are just as important.
One such person is the inventor of the refrigerator. Even though the appliance is a must-have in our kitchens, most people don’t know who created it.
Who Invented the Refrigerator?
Unlike many innovations, the refrigerator doesn’t have one sole inventor, as it was developed in stages.
In 1755, a Scottish professor named William Cullen designed a small machine that absorbed heat from the air and cooled its interior, but nothing else came of it. In 1805, American inventor Oliver Evans designed a vapor-based fridge. Jacob Perkins, an American inventor, and engineer who lived in England and was friends with Evans took and modified that design before creating a patent on it in 1835. The vapor-compression system used ammonia and was constructed by a man named John Hague, and it’s considered the first real precursor to what we know as refrigerators today.
1842 saw American Doctor John Gorrie build a similar machine to Evans’, and since his fridge could create ice, he used it to help patients suffering from yellow fever. He received a U.S. patent for the ‘Improved process for the artificial production of ice,” in 1851.
At first, refrigerators were used in commercial settings, such as breweries, meat plants, and other places where it was important to keep goods cold. Safer, more compact home fridges didn’t become popular until the 1920s after inventor Fred W. Wolf got a patent for a “refrigerating apparatus” in 1915.
The first refrigerator to become wildly popular was General Electric’s 1927 Monitor-Top, of which more than a million units were produced.
It’s also important to remember that while the refrigerator simplified and eased the process of food storage, civilizations around the world have been using different methods to keep food fresh.
People in ancient Egypt and India would leave clay and earthenware pots filled with water out during cold nights to cool and form ice, while Romans and Greeks were known to store snow in pits and use that for persevering food. In other European countries, ice would be collected during the winter season, then salted and stored underground or in ice houses where it could be kept cold for months. For people that lived by the mountainside, runoff from melting snow could be used to cool drinks.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, the ice trade saw the wide-scale harvesting, transport, and sale of ice all around the United States, which would then be cut and used for meatpacking, preserving fishermen’s catches, hotels, and public businesses and domestic households.
The refrigerator had many creators, including William Cullen, Jacob Perkins, and Fred W. Wolf.
Refrigeration came in steps, and each person was crucial to the process that led to the modern at-home refrigerator that we know today.
Older fridges would have ice cube trays, porcelain covers on the exterior, and insulated steel doors.
Modern fridges often have features including automatic defrosting, a cooling zone in the fridge’s door, adjustable shelves, automatic ice dispensers, a tone that will play if the fridge is left open, and status indicators that tell you when to change the water filter.
Refrigerators used to work and cool down food by employing the use of substances like ammonia, propane, and sulfur dioxide which were toxic, flammable, and the cause of many serious accidents.
Pre electric refrigeration, people around the world would collect ice and snow from outdoors, leave water out to freeze, and collect cool runoff water from the mountainside.