Before the days of refrigeration, people relied on natural ice, snow and eventually the ice box. The ice box made it possible for people to store their foods safely and for longer periods of time. It also meant people no longer had to harvest their own natural ice or snow due to the new industry, where instead ice men delivered ice to people's homes.
The ice box came in a few various styles, but were generally square or rectangle-shaped. Inside the ice box were two smaller, square compartments. One compartment was used for food storage, while the other housed large block of ice. Ice boxes were usually insulated with tin, zinc or sawdust to help preserve the cold. The ice eventually melted, needing to be replaced. At the bottom of the ice box was a drip pan that needed to be emptied on a daily basis.
Ice boxes were first seen in England and were generally used in restaurants and homes. As the use of ice boxes increased, an industry known as Ice Men developed. Similar to milk men, the ice men delivered large blocks of ice to people's homes. People generally bought ice by the pound from what they referred to as a frozen water salesman.
The ice box was designed for home and restaurant use and saved space and time. Before ice boxes, ice houses were common. Ice houses required the collection of large chunks of ice. They were usually packed in salt and wrapped in flannel to keep from melting. The chunks were then stored underground until the warmer weather arrived. Ice boxes made it possible to store food in the home, in smaller quantities.
The use of the ice box decreased in popularity with the invention of refrigerators. In the United States, there were a series of warm winters which created a shortage of natural ice. With low supplies of natural ice, the need for mechanical refrigeration evolved. Mechanical refrigerators were first used in the fish and meat packing industries. They first appeared in homes in the early 1900s.
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