When Did Commercial Refrigeration Start?

When did commercial refrigeration first become popular?

One of the most vital aspects of a kitchen, along with the actual cooking, is refrigeration. It’s something we take for granted, but keeping food and ingredients refrigerated hasn’t always been that simple for restaurants and foodservice companies.

Refrigeration’s Evolution

Is it possible to run a restaurant without a refrigerator? Your expenses would soar, and your menu would be severely limited. That’s presumably what the original creators of “refrigeration,” way back in the prehistoric age, were thinking. The first kind of refrigeration was ice houses.

  • Ice, caves, cellars, and other methods of refrigeration were used in the beginning.
  • Ancient peoples such as the Greeks and Romans used ice from the mountains to cool their food.
  • Snow cellars or pits excavated in the ground (covered with wood and straw) were utilized by the wealthy to store ice.
  • Salting meat and fish was another way to keep them fresh.
  • The Chinese, who used to carve ice blocks around 10,000 B.C., are credited with inventing refrigeration.
  • At night, the Ancient Egyptians would place jars filled with boiled water on roofs, where the cool temperature would gradually generate ice.

Mechanical Refrigeration


The first structures for storing snow and ice were constructed hundreds of years ago. These structures were insulated with straw and sawdust. William Cullen made a breakthrough in the late 1700s with an unworkable cooling box. There was no need for such a box at the time. Later on, Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley experimented with employing volatile liquids to cool. While these advances did not result in the direct invention of commercial refrigeration technology, they did pave the way for later development.


Ferdinand Carre invented an ice-making machine in the mid-nineteenth century. When New Orleans’ ice supply from New England ran out, three of these machines were shipped to the city. More people continued to build on these discoveries throughout the 1800s. Refrigerated boxcars were used to transport dairy goods in the 1840s. Ships were outfitted with units that allowed food to be transported over larger distances in the late 1800s.


This sped up the competition to develop a mechanical refrigerator, and a patent for a vapor-compression refrigeration cycle that didn’t rely on chemical solutions or volatile liquids was issued in 1834.


Commercial Refrigeration’s Beginnings


Commercial refrigeration grew in popularity faster than domestic refrigeration, which was more difficult to sell. After all, consumers needed to replace their dependable iceboxes, and the machines available at the time weren’t particularly practical for the average household. However, breweries and meatpacking plants rapidly fell in love with these devices, and they were widely adopted.


Refrigeration in the Home


A functional, electric refrigerator was not constructed for residential use until 1914. The patent was granted to Nathaniel B. Wales of Detroit, MI, and it provided the basis for the Kelvinator model. Refrigerators became extremely popular after that. And, of course, they can now be found in almost every home in the country.


Commercial Refrigeration Business


The number of commercial refrigerator manufacturers exploded in the early 1900s. The commercial foodservice business grew across the country as refrigeration, cooking, and transportation technology improved.


Commercial freezers became extremely significant in the 1900s for a variety of businesses, particularly the meat-packing industry. Big corporations like Armour and Wilson bought devices to keep meat cool and fresh on box cars and in storage facilities. These early units were massive, weighing anywhere from five to two hundred tons, and relied on hazardous gases for cooling, making them highly dangerous.

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