• FA-123596 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-123599 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Everyday Life
Household Technology
Everyday Life - directions for use
1900 - 1909
  • Dr. Roswitha Muttenthaler

Icebox, approx. 1900 - 1940

Nowadays, the storage of cool drinks and fresh groceries is taken for granted. Prior to the invention of the fridge, however, this required a great deal of effort and was not always possible.

Although household appliances for cooling were already developed from 1910 onwards, it was only in the 1960s that they also found their way into the average household. Prior to this, cooling posed a real challenge in the warmer season. Food supply, shopping habits and food storage differed significantly from today's standards. It was important to have cool storage areas such as cellars at one's disposal. In order to keep foodstuff from spoiling, it was conserved in tins and jars. Foodstuff such as meat, milk or butter, which spoilt easily, was purchased in small quantities and on a daily basis. Even in the shops, the amount of foodstuff requiring refrigeration was kept to a minimum.

From around 1870 onwards, iceboxes like this model from the collection of the Technisches Museum Wien (Vienna Technical Museum) were manufactured to improve cool storage. However, they could not yet generate cold in the way a fridge can and had to be filled with blocks of ice on a regular basis. While the ice layered on top melted away, it withdrew the heat required for this process from the icebox interior. Most of the time, the wooden casing was lined with insulation material and zinc sheeting. Ice suppliers delivered the ice blocks required for the cooling to the households. The painstakingly acquired and expensive ice had to be used effectively, which is why the icebox – unlike modern-day fridges – was standing in a cool place.

Cooling required a great deal of work: melt-water had to be poured off, the ice had to be replaced, the icebox had to be cleaned continuously and the supply of ice needed to be controlled. Although the advertising promised hygienically clean cooling, the melting of the ice caused a damp cold, which favoured mould fungus and foul smelling oxide films on the plate. It is only since the invention of refrigerant devices that cooling has become effortless.

Inv.Nr. 35177/1
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