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Before the Refrigerator

, 136 pages

10 b&w illus., 2 maps

February 2018



Availability Text

Usually ships 2-3 business days after receipt of order.

Before the Refrigerator

How We Used to Get Ice

Table of Contents

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Americans depended upon ice to stay cool and to keep their perishable foods fresh. Jonathan Rees tells the fascinating story of how people got ice before mechanical refrigeration came to the household. Drawing on newspapers, trade journals, and household advice books, Before the Refrigerator explains how Americans built a complex system to harvest, store, and transport ice to everyone who wanted it, even the very poor.

Rees traces the evolution of the natural ice industry from its mechanization in the 1880s through its gradual collapse, which started after World War I. Meatpackers began experimenting with ice refrigeration to ship their products as early as the 1860s. Starting around 1890, large, bulky ice machines the size of small houses appeared on the scene, becoming an important source for the American ice supply. As ice machines shrunk, more people had access to better ice for a wide variety of purposes. By the early twentieth century, Rees writes, ice had become an essential tool for preserving perishable foods of all kinds, transforming what most people ate and drank every day.

Reviewing all the inventions that made the ice industry possible and the way they worked together to prevent ice from melting, Rees demonstrates how technological systems can operate without a central controlling force. Before the Refrigerator is ideal for history of technology classes, food studies classes, or anyone interested in what daily life in the United States was like between 1880 and 1930.

Jonathan Rees is a professor of history at Colorado State University–Pueblo. He is the author of Refrigeration Nation: A History of Ice, Appliances, and Enterprise in America and Refrigerator.

"Before the Refrigerator is accessible, offers a unique insight that sheds light on a simple—at least at first glance—historical question, and includes multiple stories that will draw students into the subject. Well-written and backed up by ample evidence, the book is a welcome addition to the How Things Worked series."

"This fact-filled book explains how ice became an American necessity by the early twentieth century. Students in business history and history of technology courses will be fascinated to learn how macrobreweries made lager into America's favorite beer, how cocktails became commonplace, and how burly men used to lug giant blocks of ice into American kitchens."

"Americans consider their refrigerators and freezers ordinary features of life. It wasn't always so, or so easy: before the fridge came the icebox, along with a whole industrial infrastructure that made ice widely available and paved the way for electrical cooling. In this fascinating and well-written book by America's leading authority on the subject, readers learn just what it means to have their frozen dinners and drinks 'on the rocks.'"

"Decades before refrigerators became kitchen standards, ice was being cut from ponds in the northern United States and shipped by sea, rail, and oxcart to places as distant as Hawaii and Texas. Jonathan Rees has written an eye-opening account of what was involved in this transformation of the American diet."

"Jonathan Rees digs into a topic that is crucial for anyone interested in the history of technology and food: the American ice industry. With clarity and concision, Rees explores the economic, cultural, and culinary changes wrought by the industry and demonstrates how it profoundly shaped American tastes themselves."

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