Who invented the refrigerator? Have you ever wondered this while enjoying all the various features of modern refrigerators? From automatic defrosting and built-in icemakers to water filtration systems and adjustable shelves, the choices available today are staggering.
But where did the refrigerator come from? This would seem like a simple question to answer. However, science doesn't occur in a vacuum. Scientific development depends not only on the minds of the inventors themselves, but on previous knowledge in the field. Therefore, it is important to not only know who invented the refrigerator, if someone can actually be assigned the honor, but the process that led up to the invention.
The History Behind Who Invented the Refrigerator
Snow and ice has been used for thousands of years to cool foods. Over time, straw and wood was added for further insulation. By 1550, sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate were added to water, causing the water's temperature to drop for a cooling effect.
However, the concept of refrigeration remained somewhat of a mystery. For example, the English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) conducted an experiment with snow and a chicken that ultimately cost him his life. He wanted to see how long the chicken's meat would stay fresh after stuffing the carcass with snow. According to received legend, he caught a cold and died a month later.
Jump forward to 1748. Scottish chemist William Cullen (1748-1817) used compressed ether at a demonstration at the University of Glasgow to create a partial vacuum that resulted in the production of ice. However, this concept was never used on a commercial basis.
Other inventors contributed to the development of the refrigerator over the next 100 years. For example, American Oliver Evans designed a machine that could refrigerate in 1805, but never patented it or built it. In 1820, British physicist Michael Faraday, who invented the electric motor, was able to cause cooling using liquefied ammonia. American inventor Jacob Perkins was awarded the first invention patent in 1834 for a refrigeration system using a vapor compression cycle. Improvements on refrigeration continued throughout the 19th century and, of course, beyond.
Most homes had ice boxes or used root cellars for cooling at the dawn of 20th century America. While warm winters in 1889 and 1890 had pushed the development of refrigeration for commercial purposes because ice supplies were limited, there weren't any refrigerators available to American households. It wasn't until the 1910s that refrigerators were introduced that were appropriate for the home. In 1921, only about 5,000 refrigerators were in use in the United States. Within two years, more than fifty companies were producing refrigerators.
These days, companies continue to make improvements to both domestic and commercial refrigerators. Domestic refrigerators are smaller than commercial ones, and sometimes they are even built into kitchen layouts. Most domestic refrigerators use electricity, but there are some models that use propane or natural gas, or are dual-powered; often, these refrigerators are used in RVs.
Energy efficiency is also a consideration for domestic refrigerators. Although designers of modern refrigerators want to make them as energy-efficient as possible, some of today’s models are less efficient than older models from decades ago. This is because many of the features so popular today use a lot of energy, while the older plain-vanilla refrigerator models used much less power.
It is important to remember that when disposing of an old refrigerator, the door must be removed or, at the very least, chained shut. This is because refrigerators cannot be opened from the inside, and many children have died over the years after being trapped inside a refrigerator while playing around it.
Take a look back at life in 1900, when keeping a home clean meant hours of manual labor.
The story of who invented the microwave, like so many stories of twentieth century innovation, begins with a weapons manufacturer.