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Cool as Cucumber: The Refrigerator Story Part 1

ice-house

In good old tropical Singapore, keeping food coolly fresh is of paramount importance especially when we don’t have naturally occurring ice or snow for preservation purposes. This makes the modern refrigerator pretty much one of the greatest inventions before sliced bread.

The Ice Worker’s Song: How it all began

Back in the good old days, iceboxes were built with hollow walls that were lined with tin or zinc. These walls were then insulated with materials such as seaweed, cork or straw. To cool the storage compartments, a large block of ice would be placed near the top of the box. The ice had to be replenished daily so it was usually bought from the iceman. Melted ice would be disposed via the drip pan under the box or drained through a spigot (faucet) from the catch pan or holding tank in more advanced versions. Since the icebox depended heavily on frozen water, it led to a substantial growth in the ice harvesting industry. Ice was harvested during the winter from ponds, rivers and freshwater lakes. These ice would then be stored in ice houses to prepare for the summer months. Such houses are typically insulated buildings built near natural sources of ice and can also be used to keep perishables or provide a place where ice cream and sorbet desserts could be prepared.

vintage-ice-chest
Vintage Ice Chest

Frozen Assets: The Monitor-Top Refrigerator

The modern refrigerator that you see today is the result of an extremely long process of refinement and development, but one of more successful models must be the “Monitor-Top” refrigerator by General Electric. It was the first affordable fridge to see widespread usage and was given that very name because the exposed compressor on top of the all-steel cabinet looks like the gun turret on the iron-hulled warship USS Monitor built during the American Civil War. Although it’s considered an antique today, many people still use it at home due to its hardy nature but such units use either sulfur dioxide or methyl formate (both toxic gases) as refrigerants. While it can be bought off bidding websites such as Ebay, you cannot recharge the refrigerator legally if it encounters a leak or breakdown. Interesting, huh?

monitor-top-refrigerator
Monitor-Top refrigerator by General Electrics (introduced in 1927)

 

Now that we know the back-story of the refrigerator, we will touch on the different types of refrigerators in the next segment. Do stay tuned!

 

Read the next part – Cool as Cucumber: The Refrigerator Story Part 2


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