This week represents 100 years of a device that we all take for granted, and yet is one of the most useful household utilities ever made. In the summer of 1914, the first refrigerator hit the market in the US and was called the DOMELRE, short for Domestic Electric Refrigerator. The first models were more like iceboxes. For a hundred years, the refrigerator has sat quietly in a corner of the kitchen and, despite the technological and design changes it has gone through, it still gets taken for granted—mainly because it is considered modest technology compared to our newer, smarter gadgets. In the early 1900s, the key requirement was for ice-harvesting and transportation. The iceboxes available, at that time, were only seen in affluent households. Poorer families who could not afford one, popularly known as a ‘fridge’ by then, would keep blocks of ice in a bathtub.
The early models were not all that reliable, and it was only in the mid-1900s that the industry consolidated and a few manufacturers produced reliable machines at affordable prices. Today, it is all about efficient, energy-saving models or fancy ones with double doors and chilled water or ice-cube dispensers. The high-end ones can cost up to a couple of lakhs. The latest are smart refrigerators which connect to other home appliances and warn you when you need to replace the milk and even allow you to scroll recipes. There is a fascinating book called How Technology Remakes Humanity by Edward Tenner which talks about the history of the refrigerator and its future. In it, he emphasises the fact that the refrigerator is still taken for granted but in all household surveys, a majority say that it is the one appliance they could not do without.