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Today, refrigerators are taken for granted as one of the most common appliances in America, but it was not always so. Before refrigerators, people tried to preserve their food in cool places like streams, caves, and snow banks. As more people moved into cities, however, a better solution was needed.

By the early 1800s, people kept blocks of ice in insulated wooden cabinets called "ice cabinets." The widespread use of ice cabinets created the ice-harvesting industry in the northern states. Ice harvesters cut blocks of ice from frozen lakes and shipped them to warmer parts of the country. When the Civil War (1861–65) broke out in 1861, ice was one of the first supplies to be cut off from the southern states, leaving southerners' ice cabinets empty and their food rotting. By the early 1890s, warm winters caused ice supplies throughout the United States to diminish, providing an opportunity for other refrigeration techniques to interest people.

Several inventors experimented with mechanical refrigeration techniques in the 1800s. A method using liquefied ammonia created by French inventor Ferdinand Carré became the basic system used by modern refrigerators. Carré obtained a patent in France in 1859 and in the United States in 1860. It was not until 1914, however, that the first home-use refrigerator—the Dolmere—was introduced in Chicago, Illinois.

Refrigerators soon became tremendously popular; finally, homemakers had a convenient way to store perishable products. By 1916, more than two dozen brands were sold on the market; a number that increased to two hundred by 1920. The first freezers came on the market in the late 1920s. Modern refrigerators started to be mass-produced after World War II (1939–45), making home refrigerators a common consumer product. Home refrigeration systems have not lost their appeal over the years; they have only become more efficient and more environmentally friendly. By the end of the century, refrigerators had become the most common product in American homes; 99.5 percent of American homes had one.

—Sara Pendergast

For More Information

"The History of Household Wonders: History of the Refrigerator." History (accessed January 17, 2002).

Jones, Joseph C., Jr. American Ice Boxes: A Book on the History, Collecting, and Restoration of Ice Boxes. Humble, TX: Jobeco Books, 1981.

Preville, Cherie, and Chris King. "Cooling Takes Off in the Roaring Twenties." The,1338,24844,00.html (accessed January 17, 2002).

Yenne, Bill. 100 Inventions That Shaped World History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books, 1993.

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