Refrigerators or Ice Boxes?

When I wasn’t sure if my Roaring Twenties characters should own refrigerators or iceboxes, I did some research. Iceboxes had been around for decades before the 1920s and were common in middle-class homes. These were, literally, boxes with a bottom door (or two or more) for food and a top compartment lined with tin for the block of ice. The ice compartment had a tube that drained the melted water down to a pan on the floor, which of course had to be emptied periodically, usually every day. The ice box had hollow walls that were insulated with cork, sawdust, or straw. They came in all sizes and some were quite fancy, like a piece of furniture, with carved oak exteriors. An ice man delivered ice blocks to the home every few days.

geRefrigerators were available in the 1920s thanks to the introduction of electricity in the home. General Electric supposedly produced the first motor-driven refrigerator in 1911. But . . . the motors were noisy and not attached to the unit. This didn’t interest many people, since the ice box was silent and relatively inexpensive. Frigidaire produced a better model in 1923, and there were some sold to wealthy consumers, but not many. Refrigerator sales didn’t really take off until after World War II. So I have my characters using ice boxes. Except for David, the rich ex-bootlegger, who has an electric refrigerator in his house–and a radio too! He’s the sort to spend on newfangled technology. 

I came across this statistic: in 1920 there were 10,000 refrigerators made. Five years later, there were 75,000 made. The big boost in sales came as more homes were wired for electricity and more families became prosperous enough to afford new technology. (This was also the era for the introduction of vacuum cleaners, toasters, washing machines, and other electrical appliances.)

Iceboxes came in many sizes, so prices aren’t easily comparable, but a 1923 ad for a white, enamel lined ice box was $27.95, and a larger steel one that held 100 pounds of ice was $56.95. Here’s another: 1920srefrigerator