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View Full Version : How did people keep stuff cool before fridges in the < 1800s?


Arturius
02-10-2004, 08:56 PM
And how (or if) did they make ice?

Im puzzled :rolleyes:

Grey
02-10-2004, 09:07 PM
They had cold cellars and packed ice in straw to keep it from melting.

dolphinboy
02-10-2004, 09:08 PM
Prior to the 1800's I'm not sure... but during most of the 1800's they used ice, of course, and stored it in insulated boxes of one kind or another.

Where did the ice come from? Before they had the ability to make ice, at least in northern climes, they used to "harvest" it from shallow lakes during the winter and store it either in a building or I believe sometimes underground. They would then come around each week and sell you a block of ice that you would then put in your ice box. What they did in southern climes I'm not sure :rolleyes:

DrFidelius
02-10-2004, 09:11 PM
Mostly, they didn't.

Ice was harvested in New England, packed in sawdust, and shipped all over the world, but I do not believe that industry took off until the mid 1800s.

Root cellars and spring houses would help keep perishables a little cooler than if they were stored above ground, but not all that much. People didn't have much that required refridgeration before refridgeration technology was developed. For preservation, foods were dried, salted, smoked, or put up as canned preserves.

DrFidelius
02-10-2004, 09:14 PM
Ice Industry Link: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item.jhtml?id=3650&t=bizhistory

Adjustable_Beavis
02-11-2004, 07:35 AM
My grandmother grew up in the Appalachia mountains on a farm. The farm had a spring fed stream that came out of the mountains. The water in the stream was very cold year round. They deepened and widened a section of the stream to roughly the size of 2 bathtubs. Then they lined that section with rocks. A shed was build over that part of the stream to keep out the sun, animals, etc. They made what they called a "spring house". They could put milk, butter, etc in jars and store it in the stream where it stayed cool all summer. This was in the late 1800's - early 1900's.

theatre_cat
02-11-2004, 08:00 AM
Darned if i can find the reference, but I recall a Scientific American issue describing how paleolithic or maybe iron age hunters preserved meat. They stored it in leather bags, weighted by stones, at the bottom of glacial lakes and ponds. Course they had no electricity, so what else were they to do?

//

BrotherCadfael
02-11-2004, 08:11 AM
As noted, people in areas with significant winter cut ice out of ponds and stored it in ice houses or ice cellars, generally packed in sawdust. The ice would stay frozen pretty much throughout the year, and they would dig out a block whenever it was needed. According to the artist and antiquarian Erik Sloane, actual clouds would form in very large ice houses!

There were regular shipments of ice from northern areas to southern cities, but the in the rural south, ice was probably not readily available.

Another form of refridgeration used in rural areas was a cooling bucket, which was a watertight and weighted bucket that could be lowered into the well. The water in a well would generally be at the temperature of ground water, about 50 degrees Farenheit. This is warmer than a modern fridge (about 40 degrees), but would keep things fresh for a time.

Sarah23
02-11-2004, 08:16 AM
On the show 1900 House they had big blocks of ice shipped from somewhere north to use in their punch. I thought that was so weird! :)

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
02-11-2004, 08:33 AM
Look people, it's refrigeration, not re[/b]fridg[/b]eration.

With that said, I know the Union Ice Company (www.unionicecompany.com)* of Los Angeles goes way back almost to the mid-19th century, possibly even before the transcontinental railroad reached us. Because of the nature of ice it's possible to transport quite a large mass of it, even into a warm area, and not lose much to melting. Once the railroads reached most areas of the country, it was simple to transport a boxcar load of ice; with good insulation I imagine very little would have been lost even in the southwestern U.S.


*Their link doesn't seem to work right now, but might later.

Trunk
02-11-2004, 08:48 AM
I grew up in a town that was an "Ice Harvesting" town way back when. They harvested the ice from a river that froze.

They had some pretty cool tools for moving the ice blocks around and cutting it. A peavey was a long pole with a hook and a pick on the end of it.

Needless to say, I think it was a pretty dangerous job to be working out on a river pulling in blocks of ice. And by dangerous, I mean falling ito the river and being swept under the ice by the current. Not to mention getting your tootsie's cold.

There was a Flintstone's episode once where IIRC Fred and Barney started an ice house. One of them kept getting stuck in it and freezing into a block that the other one woudl have to thaw him out of.

UselessGit
02-11-2004, 08:54 AM
There are several ways of preserving food, refigeration just slows down the rotting process slightly. In the old days we used to smoke and dry fish and meat and pickle pretty much everything. That way food could be preserved for months. If you freeze your food you will eventually have to thaw it back, this can be quite a problem when your habitat is colder than the proverbial witches teet for 9 months a year.

Every February we celebrate the old ways of preserving food with the notorious Thorrablot:

Therefore restaurants and homes alike feature special menus with some of the old traditional Viking foods. Some of these delicacies include Slatur, which is sheep's blood pudding rolled in lard and sewn up in the stomach, as well as Svith, which is a half boiled lamb's head, and of course everybody's favorite, pickled ram's testicles. link (http://www.goiceland.org/winter1.html)

I can't wait to get home to my scorched sheep's head :D

casdave
02-11-2004, 09:43 AM
There is a way of using evaporation as a methode of mild chilling, but it is hardly what you'd call refrigeration.

This method was used by British troops in Burma during WWII, and I imagine the trick is much older and more widely used than that.

Soldiers in the field would fill their canvas covered canteens with clean, or chemicly sterilised water, and then soak the protective canvs canteen bag in other water.
When this is hung up to dry off in warm environment, even direct sun, the canvas woulds dry out taking the heat from the clean water inside.
Obviously you cannot let the canvas bag dry out completely.

jjimm
02-11-2004, 09:50 AM
It should be noticed that ice, and ice houses, were a luxury for the very right. Normal people just didn't keep stuff cool (unless they lived near the Arctic circle).

What they did do was preserve stuff (hence the name 'preserve' or 'conserve' for jams and jellies) - by pickling in vinegar or oil, salting, boiling in sugar, etc. A lot of the delicacies we enjoy today exist purely because of the methods originally employed as preservation agents.

On a similar note, in the 18th C beer was prized over water as a beverage (even for kids) because it was antiseptic from both the alcohol content and the boiling of the mash used to make it. Whereas the water bore all sorts of ghastly diseases.

I'm not sure if it's relevant, but in China a lot of animal produce is kept alive up until the point of sale for the reason that, until very recently, there was no way of keeping the meat cool.

jjimm
02-11-2004, 09:54 AM
a luxury for the very rightEr... I mean "the very rich".

Hope that wasn't a snobbish Freudian slip...

Dewey Finn
02-11-2004, 10:10 AM
There is a way of using evaporation as a methode of mild chilling, but it is hardly what you'd call refrigeration.

This method was used by British troops in Burma during WWII, and I imagine the trick is much older and more widely used than that.

Soldiers in the field would fill their canvas covered canteens with clean, or chemicly sterilised water, and then soak the protective canvs canteen bag in other water.
When this is hung up to dry off in warm environment, even direct sun, the canvas woulds dry out taking the heat from the clean water inside.
Obviously you cannot let the canvas bag dry out completely.

Recently, a Nigerian developed something similar for use in remote areas. It uses a clay pot inside of another clay pot where the second pot is kept wet, drawing heat away from the contents of the inner pot. I think Wired ran something about this, but there is also a description at:

http://www.rolexawards.com/laureates/laureate2.jsp?id=0006

BrotherCadfael
02-15-2004, 04:55 PM
A friend of mine, who was in the South Pacific during WWII, told me of a method used by GIs in the tropics to cool their beer. It seems they would put the cans of beer in a bucket of gasoline, and put the hose of a bicycle pump at the bottom of the bucket. Pumping air through the gasoline for a few minutes cooled the beer almost to refrigerator temperatures.

I have never tested this method.