From the simple donut to the Saturn V rocket, American ingenuity and know-how has produced some of the world’s most important technological achievements and products. Even in the 21st century, we can’t be stopped, as we produce more patents than almost any other country on Earth.
We just found one particular invention that helped usher in the era of cocktails and ice water. This device so simple in design, and yet so perfectly functional, made uniform ice cubes reality.
Long before your “death star” ice cube trays and automatic ice machines were built in to refrigerators, most American households had at least one of these simple mechanical ice cube trays in their freezer.
Invented in 1933 by General Utilities Manufacturers vice president, Guy Tinkham, the McCord ice tray sold for about fifty cents when it was introduced. And, while they were extremely common in most American freezers into the 1980’s, today you would be lucky to find one at a yard sale or antique shop for less than twenty dollars.
The concept was simple: once the water in the tray froze, you would pull back the lever and the cubes would be split apart. Nowadays, we all struggle with our synthetic ice trays that yield kitschy shaped cubes, or in some cases, spheres, bending and contorting the infernal trays every which way so they will pop out.
Of course, those new fangled trays are all made in China.
Americans have been innovating ice since the birth of our nation. Founding father Ben Franklin was always examining the natural world in hopes of divining practical applications. He once noted that he stayed cool on hot days by wearing a wet shirt and standing in a breeze. His later research on the observed phenomenon helped lay the groundwork for refrigeration and air conditioning.
In 1805, inventor Oliver Evans designed a method for producing ice using a closed vapor compression system using ether in a vacuum chamber.
The first ice cube trays were probably invented by an American doctor who was developing treatments for his patients suffering from yellow fever. In 1844 Dr. John Gorrie invented a refrigerator to make ice to help cool down his patients while they were in the throes of their fever.
By the outset of World War One, Americans Fred Wolf and Nathaniel Wales, had each independently created workable home refrigerator designs. Wales’ system later became the Kelvinator. The Kelvinator was first introduced in 1918 and was the first refrigerator to have temperature controls.
Also in 1918, William C. Durant founded the Frigidaire company. Early home refrigerators could cost over seven hundred dollars, while a contemporary model “T” Ford automobile cost around four hundred and fifty dollars. Remarkably, today a basic refrigerator may cost just about seven hundred dollars, with even the most luxurious models only costing a couple of thousand dollars.
If only car prices had stayed so stable.
By the 1940’s, most households had refrigerators, thanks to the chemical freon, and by the 1950’s, they were even equipped with freezers to make their own ice instead of having it delivered.
Now that summer is on the horizon, do you have any favorite frozen concoctions? Please share them with us here.