January 01, 2008

Kooling with a Kelvinator

Could there possibly have been a more welcomed new household item than the electric refrigerator? First used commercially, then by the wealthy, this marvel of convenience started making its regular appearance in U.S. households by the early 1930s.

Historically, people kept their food cold using snow and ice, in cellars lined with straw and hay, or in cool streams of water. Cold food preservation in the summer declined as the seasonal heat caused bacteria to form on the food at a much faster rate.

At the beginning of the 20th century, fifty percent of U.S. households relied on blocks of ice, kept in an icebox, to keep food cold, while the other fifty percent had no cooled storage at all.

Some iceboxes were nice decorative pieces of wood furniture such as the one shown here from the 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue. The crosscut section shown below demonstrates how the block of ice was placed at the top of the unit and the arrows indicate the direction of the circulating dry air.

The new refrigerators, using compressed gases to cool the air, replaced the icebox. I grew up around the generation who still referred to the refrigerator as an "icebox." Every once in a while, I still unconsciously call it that myself.

In 1881 Edmund Copeland and Arnold Gross started the Leonard Refrigerator Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Eventually the company became a large manufacturer of wooden icebox cabinets like the one in the Sears Roebuck Catalogue. The company was renamed the Electro-Automatic Refrigerating Company in 1914 after they developed the first household mechanical refrigerator. In 1918 they renamed the company Kelvinator after Lord Kelvin, who developed the concept of absolute zero.

The earliest mechanical refrigerating and freezing units were used commercially for about 40 years before they were introduced into households.

Kelvinator was very popular with the U.S. consumer who could afford one and by 1923 they held 80 percent of the market for electric refrigerators. In 1925 the company introduced the industry's first self-contained refrigeration unit with cooling system, compressor and condenser all conveniently located in one cabinet.

For the Hostess (not dated, 24 pages) was one of the early recipe pamphlets published by Kelvinator, and it shows examples of this new method of cold food storage.

Two of the larger illustrations in the booklet bear the name of Fred Mizen, a well-known artist and illustrator. It's probable that he was also responsible for some of the other smaller illustrations found in the booklet.

I also found the refrigerator model shown in this illustration from the booklet in a 1928 magazine ad. The clothing and hairstyle of the woman demonstrator also indicates this time period. This particular model featured one single door as well as a freezer compartment for ice tray storage. Ice trays made their debut in the 1920s.

The next illustration shows a model with four doors and is used to illustrate the recommended placement of foods inside the Kelvinator. One can see the large ham and bottles of milk kept on the bottom of the unit and fresh fruits and vegetables on the higher shelves. Notice the bananas, by this time an affordable fruit to all consumers, shown on the top shelf.

The recipe booklet had advice for storing your food:

"To get the most out of your Kelvinator, there are a few points we ask you to remember.

When you store food in your Kelvinator, place it in accordance with the illustration on page 13.

All cooked foods should be covered.

Butter should be placed in a tightly covered container.

Leaf vegetables, such as salad greens and celery, should be kept in a damp cheesecloth bag. In this way you may keep lettuce fresh for a week. Peaches, oranges, lemons and tomatoes will retain their original juiciness if kept in a paper bag, or wrapped in oiled paper.

Be sure to leave sufficient space between the walls of the refrigerator and the dishes near them, and between the dishes on the shelves, to allow a free circulation of air. It is the continual circulation of cold air through the Kelvinator that preserves your food.

Be sure to follow the instructions for de-frosting and oiling given on the instruction card which you receive when your machine is installed.

It is necessary to clean the refrigerator only once a month. Then wash it out quickly with a lukewarm solution of bicarbonate of soda or borax. Wash the ice trays occasionally with boiling water to which a little bicarbonate of soda has been added.

Under normal conditions, the freezing of each recipe will vary only according to the quantity to be frozen, the consistency and temperature of the mixture. If the recipe is doubled, additional time will be required. It will take longer to freeze mousses and ice creams than to freeze ices and sherbets.

The freezing times given in this book are average. You will have to experiment with your machine and note the time which gives you the desired results.

Unless otherwise specified, the recipes are apportioned to serve six and will just fill the 21-cube ice tray.

Level measures and the standard one-half pint measuring are used in all recipes."

There are recipes for appetizers, entrees, salads, desserts and iced drinks. Aspics and gelatin-based dishes are predominantly featured, and, of course, frozen desserts.

This recipe book must have presented so many new possibilities to the housewife fortunate enough to obtain a Kelvinator.

A short description of the various desserts that can be made using the Kelvinator is given:

"Sherbets are water ices to which is added a small quantity of dissolved gelatin and beaten egg whites and sometimes whipped cream.

Parfaits are made by pouring a thick hot syrup over beaten egg whites or egg yolks; then whipped cream and flavorings are added.

Mousses are heavy creamed whipped and combined with various flavorings.

Philadelphia ice cream is thin cream whipped and combined with a small quantity of gelatine and flavorings.

French ice cream has a custard foundation combined with whipped cream and flavorings."

There are "foundation" recipes given for each type of dessert, then variations of each. All called for the mixtures to be poured into the Kelvinator trays and frozen for an average of four to six hours.


1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Whites 3 eggs
1 teaspoon gelatine
1/4 cup cold water
2 cups cream, whipped

Boil sugar and water 5 minutes. Add salt to egg whites which have been beaten stiff; then slowly pour the syrup mixture over the egg whites and add gelatine dissolved in cold water. Cool and add whipped cream and vanilla. Pour into Kelvinator tray and freeze 4 to 5 hours.


Use 3/4 cup hot maple syrup instead of sugar and water as specified in Foundation White Parfait recipe and add 1/2 cup chopped nuts.

Like most of the cookbooks of this era, there is no concern over the addition of raw eggs to the recipes. Many of the desserts shown in this book use raw egg yolks or whites.


1 cup lemon juice
5 cups water
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 bunch of mint

Wash mint (reserve several leaves for garnish); crush mint leaves and mix with sugar and lemon juice. Allow to stand at least 30 minutes in Kelvinator. Add water, strain and pour over Kelvinator ice cube in glass and garnish with sprig of mint. Serves 8.

The photo below, located on the last page of the booklet, shows a large facility captioned as "The Home of Kelvinator. The Oldest Domestic Electric Refrigeration."

The previous headquarters of Kelvinator Incorporated, located in Detroit, Michigan, is currently owned by Chrysler and known as the Plymouth Road Office Complex. Part of a 57 acre site, it's currently on the market for $10.5 million. A closer, modern-day view of the Nash-Kelvinator Building is shown here:


At 6:56 PM CST, Blogger Rochelle R. said...

My The Kelvinator Book Of Recipes is my favorite vintage booklet. The photo on my blog is from it. The last few pages of the book are about the Kevinator Range Oven so there are several oven photos. I love the pen and ink illustrations of housewives cooking and entertaining. There is a photo of the Kelvin Kitchen with a refrigerator with four doors at the front of the book. You probably have this book, It is the one with the black/red/white cover.

At 11:00 PM CST, Blogger Kathy said...

Rochelle - Isn't that clever - the Kelvin Kitchen! I like to look at the kitchen illustrations of the various Home Economic Depts. They're always so modern (for their time) and perfect.

At 4:31 PM CST, Blogger ~~Louise~~ said...

Hi Kathy-just dropped in per chance and was delighted to see your "Kooling with a Kelvinator". Today, I celebrated Thomas Moore's birthday. He coined the word refrigerator. I'll be alinking:)


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