Interior of an Antique Ice Box

michaelangelo Community, History, Ice Machine, Maintenance & Cleaning, Refrigeration

How Did Antique Iceboxes Work?


An antique icebox is a special piece of modern history. Without its success in the 19th century, we probably wouldn’t be here! This 150-year-old and counting device kept food cold and safe to eat. And it looked dang good as it did. 

Nowadays, the antique icebox is just that—an antique. Enthusiasts love, collect, repair, and showcase these iceboxes in their homes or businesses. 

That’s what we’re going to talk about today. In this blog, discover the history of the icebox, how they work, and what you can do with them today!


The history of the early refrigerator


It doesn’t matter what point in time you lived in. Prepared food needs to stay cool to avoid rot and spoilage. How our history and civilization solved this problem goes back millennia. But let’s focus on the 1840 Western civilization for a minute. 

Generally, average consumers used natural ice blocks to preserve food in what they’d call a refrigerator. Specially-sized ice blocks fit snugly into a stylish, functional piece of furniture in the kitchen. The modern American wouldn’t think of this device like a refrigerator, though. This wooden, two-compartment kitchen contraption used air to insulate ice and keep things cool for as long as possible. Like mailmen, icemen delivered large blocks of ice door to door. That’s where the now antique icebox was born, and what most people think of when they picture an old icebox.


We find the early beginnings of refrigeration and ice commercialization fascinating. That’s why we wrote a blog series about it! Click here to learn more about the birth of refrigeration.


How did antique iceboxes work?


Antique iceboxes, in principle, work similarly to the modern refrigerator. Simple, yet practical. Given the limitations of the 19th century, the device certainly got the job done. 

The icebox itself was hollow and lined with zinc or tin. This lining kept the internal temperature cooler longer. Then, the previously mentioned ice blocks slid into a separate compartment near food that needed to stay cold. The design of the icebox and the humidity circulated the cold air in the device. That’s pretty much the same thing a modern refrigerator does! Some people even placed the ice directly next to the food.


Can you still use an antique icebox today?


In today’s world, iceboxes are obsolete. Most residential homes and commercial buildings have a combination refrigerator and freezer. But that doesn’t mean people don’t value the antique iceboxes of old. In fact, it’s highly prized as a precious decoration. Since the device was used in a high-humidity environment, sourcing and restoring antique iceboxes can be quite difficult. 

If you do intend to use an antique icebox on a regular basis, here are a few tips to ensure it lasts for a long time:

  • The device is built to stay cool. In the wintertime, it’s a great idea to use it as cold storage for drinks, cans, and other sealed products. 
  • Think beyond the icebox. You can repurpose it as a bookcase, general storage, or kitchen storage. 
  • A little elbow grease goes a long way. If you find an antique icebox in less than stellar condition, give it some love. Sand the wood, replace hinges, clean the rust, or replace the internal compartments with custom trays. It can be as involved as you want it to be!

We sell iceboxes of a different variety


Just think of us as your friendly neighborhood modern icebox distributor. It doesn’t matter if you’re entertaining at home or working in the office; you need ice, and we got it. At Memphis Ice, we offer affordable and powerful ice machines for any situation. Sadly, they’re not made of wood. But that means they’ll last much longer than the historic blueprint that came before them.


Contact our team of service experts today to learn more about how you can get your very own ice machine.



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