Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Iceman Cometh No More, Because the Refrigerator Took His Place

When I was very young, I remember that my Grandmother Marguerite would refer to something in her kitchen called an “icebox.” She was referring to a refrigerator. When she was young, food was kept in an icebox to keep it cold. She simply never changed her language when the technology changed.

Think about it – just 75 years ago, Americans did not have refrigeration. Major advances in refrigeration came later. The reason I bring this up is because the timeframe in To Kill A Mockingbird matches the period in which major technological innovations regarding food, food production and food storage occurred.

In 1926, the Electrolux Servel Corp. received the first U.S. patent for a household refrigerator cooled by a sealed gas refrigerant.

In 1927, Clarence Birdseye of Massachusetts receives a patent in the U.K. for frozen fish fingers.

In 1930, retail frozen foods go on sale for the first time in Springfield, Massachusetts. Birdseye had developed and improved the methods used to successfully freeze foods on a commercial scale. Various fruits, vegetables, meat and fish began to be offered for sale.

In the 1950s, when Harper Lee conceived of and wrote her masterpiece, refrigeration and frozen foods already had become commonplace. The jump from ice boxes to refrigerators took only one generation – or more likely, half a generation.

That’s the kind of thing I love about reading a great book – the ability to envision a very different past, like the period in which my Grandmother Marguerite was a child.