Products & Materials

The History of the Fridge

Thanks to refrigerators, we can keep items fresh and stock up food and groceries for the entire week. However, what is normal nowadays was formerly a luxury. The invention of the fridge led to a genuine revolution that transformed many traditions: “Like no other kitchen appliance the refrigerator changed eating habits as well as our current food supply,” said Kirk Mangels, CEO of the Association ’Die Modern Kitchen e.V.’, Mannheim, Germany.

How the Food Was Stored in the Past

Fridges, as we know them today, were invented only about 150 years ago. Previously other practices were used: While “hunters” and “collectors” ate their food directly, Alpine dwellers used blocks of ice to protect it from spoiling. Those, who did not live near a glacier preserved their food with methods of conservation like salting, canning, drying or smoking. Niches in thick walls, holes in the ground or watertight receptacles in ponds and waters were also cool storage places. Until the 1950s the cellar functioned as a refrigerator, where mainly cheese, butter, milk, and meat were stored. A cool pantry in the kitchen was also used for storage before the durability of food and the consumption patterns of housewives were changed fundamentally by the fridge.

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An experiment from the late 1950s: The integrated fridge with freezer in a wall cupboard. (Photo: AMK)

The Fridge Finds Its Way into the Kitchen

In 1876 Carl von Linde developed a technical-chemical cooling machine, which can be seen as a predecessor of the refrigerator. In the 1920s refrigerators became quickly bestsellers in the US, whereas they did not arrive in German kitchens until the 1950s. The innovative kitchen appliance allowed economical housekeeping and therefore gained popularity quickly. Daily shopping, time-consuming precooking and spoiled food are now outdated.


Refrigerators of the postwar period had often a “streamlined” design: A thick-walled, domed appearance, rounded corners, and chrome handle dominated the visual appearance. When the refrigerator became standard equipment in the 1970s, it was integrated into the kitchen equipment and disappeared visually. Another change appeared in the 1970s and 80s when practical fridge-freezer-combination moved in.

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Different cooling zones, intelligent fitting technology, and energy efficiency characterize modern refrigerators. (Photo: AMK)

For today’s modern refrigerators energy efficiency plays an important role. Energy-Saving motorization also comes along with better insulation and functional zoning. Like a little professional cold store, cool and humid controlled vegetable drawers ensure that fruit and vegetables are stored under optimal conditions. Some drawers are equipped with LED light to illuminate fruit and vegetables even if the door is closed and to prevent vitamin degradation. The newest models can identify stored products by a digital scan of the interior. Transferred to a smartphone, the inventory list can then be sent directly to a food supplier. Therefore, the refrigerator has still the potential to change the purchasing behavior of mankind.

Cover Photo: AMK – For decades, freestanding and small refrigerators were common. 


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By Danica Maričić

Interior Designer and Integrated Marketing Communications Pro, Loving Writing and Photography, Passionate about Life & Style, “True Blue” Mediterranean Girl, Curious Traveller & Designer