Happy Birthday to the Refrigerator

As hot as this summer has been, I through it would be appropriate to page homage to the refrigerator.  According to The Writer’s Almanac, the first refrigerator was patented in the United States on August 8, 1899.

Not that the idea of keeping food cold to preserve it was anything new.  Before the ‘fridge, food had to be buried deep underground or put in cold streams.  Then came the practice of harvesting ice in winter and using it in iceboxes the rest of the year.  (My mother used to tell of returning from a family outing; the first priority would be to empty the drip pan under the icebox before it overflowed.  Pets were also good for lapping up the meltwater.)  An inventor named William Cullen publicly demonstrated an artificial cooling system as early as 1755, but apparently he didn’t follow up.

Modern cooling systems compress gas into a liquid, the let it evaporate back into a gas in a small space, thus removing heat.  This discovery led to cooling machines in the early 1800s for hospitals, usually to cool the air for yellow-fever patients.  But the only gases available then were toxic, which was a problem if they ever leaked.

Albert T. Marshall’s design was the first considered worthy of a U.S. patent in 1899.  In 1918, the Frigidaire Company was founded to make home refrigerators.  The market grew steadily with the introduction of Freon, which was a safe alternative to toxic gases, and a refrigerator became an essential kitchen appliance by the end of World War II.  By the way, this wasn’t just a home convenience.  Artificial refrigeration also revolutionized the way food was produced and  transported.

And I know we’re all grateful to have refrigeration this summer.

The original account can be found at http://writersalmanac.org/page/10/

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