For centuries ice boxes and ice houses kept food cold in warm weather. Businesses cut the ice into blocks in winter and stored it in underground caverns. Afterward, in warmer months, businesses delivered ice pieces to insulated boxes in homes, “ice boxes,” the original refrigerators.

Early Systems

William Cullen claimed to create the first artificial refrigeration system in 1748. Later, in 1805, Oliver Evans described the first vapor-based refrigeration system in a book. Evans is better known for his automated flour mill and high-pressure steam engine. His colleague, Jacob Perkins built a working refrigeration unit, based on Evans’ designs, decades later. Subsequently, Perkins received a patent in 1835, 30 years after Evans documented the process, leading to a prolonged patent fight.

Early refrigeration systems relied on natural gasses in a closed loop. Basically, vaporization of the gasses and lowered the temperature. The systems were both large, expensive, and highly toxic. In homes, the chemical-based systems were typically installed in basements with pipes leading to a small icebox in the kitchen.

Electric Refrigeration

Fred Wolf created the first self-contained refrigerator in 1913. Branded the DOMestic ELectric REfrigerator, or DOMELRE, it sold thousands of units, proving that branding doesn’t always matter.

In 1914, Nathaniel Wales of Electrolux created a thermostat controlled fridge and eventually branding it Kelvinator, an eventual bestseller.

Alfred Mellowes invented and patented a compact, reasonably priced refrigerator in 1915. Subsequently, William Durant of General Motors purchased the patent and branded the innovation Frigidaire: it became wildly popular.