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Who Invented the Refrigerator?


Since the beginning of civilization, people have searched for ways to store food safely. All kinds of preserving processes have been used including drying, salt curing, and canning. However, all of these processes greatly alter the taste and nutritional value of foods. By the mid-1800’s scientists determined that storing food at a low temperature inhibits growth of bacteria and mold without significantly altering the food itself, and the idea of the modern refrigerator was born.

First Refrigerators Were Deadly

In 1834, American inventor Jacob Perkins created the cooling compression system that made in-home refrigeration possible. By 1920, there were more than two hundred different models of refrigerators available. Unfortunately, Perkins’ system used poisonous gasses to create the cooling process and many consumers died as a result of accidentally inhaling these gasses. To address that issue, Freon was introduced in the late 1920’s. Freon is a compound, which combines several nontoxic chlorofluorocarbons. Once the goal of providing safe indoor refrigeration was accomplished, manufacture and sale of home refrigerators took off.

1930’s Was a Banner Decade for the Refrigerator

In 1930, appliance manufacturer Electrolux introduced the first built-in refrigerator. In 1936, Electrolux manufactured its one-millionth refrigerator; and by the end of the 1930’s, more than two million American homes had refrigerators. It was at this time that American appliance maker General Electric introduced a model with a section for chilled food and a second section for frozen food. The American consumer found that to be a valuable development, and in 1947, General Electric introduced the two-door refrigerator/freezer combination that is the standard design for all modern refrigerators.

Families Benefit

Liberated by the prevalence of these appliances, food manufacturers began producing quick-frozen foods designed for longer storage. While weekly and even monthly grocery store visits are the norm for most families today, prior to the development of frozen foods, women would typically visit a grocer or butcher every day to ensure that they had fresh, safe food to serve their families. Eliminating these daily visits gave women time to invest in other areas of family life. In this way, refrigerators and frozen foods greatly improved conditions for American families.

Something for Everyone

By 2005, 99.5% of all American homes had at least one refrigerator. Addressing a very diverse demand, these appliances are now available in hundreds of different sizes and styles, in prices ranging from less than $200 to tens of thousands of dollars.




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“Questions and Answers on Alternative Refrigerants | Alternatives / SNAP | US EPA.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.

“Who invented frozen food? Everyday Mysteries:Fun Science Facts from theLibrary of Congress).” Library of Congress Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.

Yenne, Bill, and  Morton. “Refrigerator History – Invention of the Refrigerator.”  The Great Idea Finder – Celebrating the Spirit of Innovation . N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.

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