Less than a hundred years ago, the icebox was the only means to keep perishable foods cold. It was simply a box in which you placed a block of ice purchased from a vendor who rode about town with his horse-drawn wagon. That block of ice, depending on the weather, kept your dairy items from spoiling until your next milk delivery.
Wasn’t it only yesterday that you poured tap water into aluminum trays? The trays had inserts to create a grid for ice cubes and a levered handle to remove the frozen cubes from the tray, often with great difficulty. And didn’t we cheer when plastic ice cube trays were invented which made the job easier (sort of) by allowing you to simply pop out the cubes with a twist (if you had plenty of muscle, that is).
And it took plenty of muscle, too, to remove layers of frost that built up on the sides of the freezer compartment. Until the industry came up with automatically defrosting and then frost-free refrigerators, housewives were faced with an almost monthly task of defrosting the freezer section manually. The usual method was to place a pot of steaming hot water in the open, emptied freezer until the frost began to melt. The water was mopped up with an old cotton towel or two, and the sections that hadn't thawed were pried off carefully with whatever handy tool worked: metal spatulas, ice picks, barbecue skewers, knives, screwdrivers, hammer and chisel...not necessarily safe, but effective. Many a housewife was certain to have demanded a new refrigerator when the frost-free models hit the stores.
Then the in-freezer icemaker came along to give us crescents of ice, and refrigerators appeared with two doors to improve their ability to maintain two separate temperature levels. All we had to do was open our freezer doors and load up our drinking glasses with ready-to-go ice. Of course, the ice crescents were prone to freezing into a single mass and the icemaker itself was prone to mechanical breakdown. Icemakers are still the most likely part of a refrigerator to need repair.
The next step up in convenience was the side-by-side refrigerator-freezer, ideally suited for introducing in-door ice and water dispensing. And because mineral buildup from tap water clogged those water lines, along with consumer concerns for safer water, filters have become a standard feature on many of today’s refrigerators. For decades now, new homes have been built with plumbing to provide the water supply for a refrigerator’s icemaker and cool water dispenser.
Today’s refrigerators have so much more to offer than storage for perishables and frozen TV dinners. Now we not only have instant ice and cold water at our fingertips, we can now get our ice crushed. The dispensers light up for midnight visits and temperature readouts provide us infinite control to keep our ice cream ready-to-scoop. Our vegetables are crisp and our meats stay fresh. And if we really want a lot of ice, we can purchase stand-alone icemakers. We can purchase wine coolers, beverage coolers, combination wine and beverage coolers, and even refrigerated beer kegs, a.k.a. “kegerators.”
We can get our refrigerators in custom colors, decorator colors, in stainless steel or black glass. We camouflage our refrigerators to look like our kitchen cabinetry or we can keep everything in view through clear glass doors. We can even turn it into a piece of art or deem it a gallery for our children's artwork. Whether it comes with a WiFi computer screen or we hang notes on it with magnets, it can even serve as information central, but we cannot live without a refrigerator in today's world. In our current economy, we may not be able to keep the refrigerator well-stocked, but as of 2005, 99.5% of all households in the United States had at least one refrigerator. Cool!