The “We Remember Blog” recalls –
Refrigeration in the 1940s & 1950s
Part #2 – Post WW II
Note – This is the second post in a three-part series on refrigeration in the 1940s and 1950s. Part #1 was published on 9/9/14 and can be viewed here. Part #3 will be published next week.
Refrigerators – After World War II, when production of refrigerators resumed and people had the money that they were unable to spend during the war because of rationing or shortages, consumers began to rapidly replace their ice boxes with electric refrigerators.
The refrigerators of the 1940s and 1950s were nothing like the big, sleek, modernistic refrigerators of today. The refrigerators of that generation were small, utilitarian units. All of them, regardless of the manufacturer, were referred to as “Frigidaires“ (at that time a trademark of General Motors). All were white porcelain boxes with a single door and most had coils on the top and a drip pan to collect condensation underneath.
The inside of these units was white porcelain with rubber coated wire shelves. Some had drawers or bins (shown at bottom of pix on the right) called “humidrawers” in their lower portion for produce and vegetables. Early refrigerators did not have freezer compartments, but rather had ice-cube tray compartments. These metal compartments (top right in pix) were about 6 inches deep, 8 or 10 inches high by 4 or 5 inches wide and hung from the top of the refrigerator. These ice-cube compartments were always placed in front of the cold air vent through which frigid air was continuously pumped into the refrigerator and in doing so freezing the contents of the ice-cube compartment. Each of these compartments had space to hold three or four ice-cube trays.
Ice cube trays were shallow metal or plastic pans approximately 3 to 4 inches wide and about 5 or six inches long. Inside of each tray was a removable metal or plastic grid that divided the tray into 10 or 12 small cubicles. Ice cube trays were filled with water and placed in ice-cube compartment of the refrigerator where the water froze in the trays’ small cubicles to form ice cubes. Some ice-cube trays had handles like that shown above. When the handle was pulled up the frozen ice cubes would be loosened and dislodged. Refrigerators with built-in ice makers were not widely available until the 1980s.
The ice-cube compartments in early refrigerators were adapted by many people for other uses. Frank’s mother made homemade sherbet using ice-cube trays without their dividers as containers in which she froze to freeze and store the sherbet. When the trays were removed from the ice-cube compartment that area became an ideal place to store ice cream and other frozen treats. It is not coincidental that when pre-packaged ice cream began to be commercially available in prepackaged containers to be taken take home for subsequent use, it was packaged in rectangular boxes that exactly fit in a refrigerator’s ice-cube compartments. And also it was no coincidence that, Clarence Birdseye, the father of modern frozen foods. packaged his frozen vegetables and fruits in 4 x 5.5 x 1.5 inch rectangular packages that could easily be stacked in refrigerator ice cube compartments.
Unlike modern refrigerators, those in use during the 1940s and 1950s required regular weekly or monthly service by their owners. Most refrigerators in those days had a pan or tray underneath it in which the water produced by condensation in the unit was collected. Someone was required to these empty these condensation pans out and clean them on a weekly basis. In hot, humid weather, condensation built up more quickly and the pans required more frequent servicing. Additionally frost and ice would build up around the ice-cube compartment and the coils in these early refrigerators . As a result, early refrigerators required at least monthly “defrosting”. To accomplish this, all of the contents of the refrigerator were removed and the unit was unplugged for several hours while the accumulated ice melted. When the ice and frost were completely melted the condensation pan was emptied, the inside of the refrigerator was wiped down and the contents replaced. When the unit was turned back on, it was good to go for another 3 to 4 weeks.
Pat & Frank Fleming – September 2014
Note – Be on the lookout next week for the final post in this three-part series on refrigeration in the 1940s and 1950s.
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