The refrigerator is used in homes and public and commercial venues for temperature controlled food storage. Most refrigerators maintain a temperature slightly below the freezing point of water, preserving the life of produce, dairy, meat, and other foods. Refrigerators are also used to store medication and other household items.
The modern refrigerator is a relatively new invention, but cooling food has long been used as a means of keeping it fresh. In the past icehouses and iceboxes were the preferred methods for cooling. Icehouses were buildings, usually located near bodies of water and packed with snow and ice. The houses were eventually reduced in size and brought indoors for convenience. The insulated boxes were able to prevent ice from melting for long periods of time, making it possible to use the ice-filled boxes for storing food and beverages and keeping them cool.
Oliver Evans Invents the Theory of Modern Refrigeration
The refrigerator coil was invented during the 11th century by a Persian chemist and physicist named Ibn Sina. The coil was used primarily for distillation and not for food storage. In 1805, the vapor-compression refrigeration method was developed by Oliver Evans. His theory was to cool by removing heat from the interior of a box by recycling vaporized refrigerant. This vapor moved through the compressor and condensor and was restored to liquid, only to cycle through the system once again.
Jacob Perkins Puts the Theory into Action
It was not until 1834 that his theory was put into action in a machine built by Jacob Perkins. Perkins built the world’s first refrigerator and filed the first legal patent for the vapor-compression cooling method. Seven years later in 1841, John Gorrie invented the first mechanical refrigeration unit and used it to cool rooms for patients suffering from yellow fever. During the 1800 and 1900s, many inventors tweaked Evans’ original concept and created convenient cooling systems for a variety of uses.
Alfred Mellowes Invents the Self-Contained Refrigerator
In 1916, Alfred Mellowes invented a self-contained refrigerator with the compressor in the bottom of the box. This invention was sold to William C. Durant, the man who later launched the Frigidaire Compan, the first to mass produce refrigerators. Refrigerators were originally bulky and required components to be installed in a basement or space outside of the kitchen prior to the introduction of the self-contained device. When the chemical Freon was introduced into commercial refrigeration during the 1920s, the home refrigeration market took off. It was a low-toxicity option and made the process of mechanical refrigeration easier and safer. Environmental concerns later led to the banning of Freon in mechanical refrigeration during the 1970s and 1980s. Refrigerators with freezers did not become popular until after World War II. This was also the time during which automatic ice making and defrosting were installed on refrigerators.