Refrigerators Through the Decades | Big Chill
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Refrigerators Through the Decades


If you’ve ever been without power in your house, you know just how suddenly keeping the food in the refrigerator cold becomes a necessity. Can you imagine living in a time before refrigerators? Warm summer months meant that families would gamble with safe food consumption, and any families living in poverty were rarely able to afford ice.

Thankfully, the first refrigerator arrived on the domestic scene in 1927, and by the year 1944 85% of American households owned a refrigerator. The appliances of the 1950’s brought on a wave of new technological innovations and advances that would continue to keep consumers intrigued for decades to come. Today, the modern refrigerator maintains the best of both worlds for a kitchen appliance that combines modern aesthetics with up-to-date energy efficiency.

In honor of the most beloved appliance in your kitchen today, here are refrigerators through the decades from the 1920s to today.

Refrigerators through the decades

1920’s – The invention of the electric refrigerator

The first ever electric refrigerator was invented by General Electric in 1927, costing each eager homeowner around $520 (that’s roughly over $7000 today). They called this a ‘Monitor-Top’, and it set the trend for refrigerator aesthetics until the 1940’s. These fridges are the inspiration behind our Classic Line of appliances.

1920’s – The invention of the electric refrigerator

Big Chill 30″ Classic Refrigerator in Classic White with Chrome trim
Big Chill 30″ Classic Refrigerator in Classic White with Chrome trim

1930’s – The introduction of the freezer

Consumers were introduced to the concept of freezers when ice cube compartments became commonly available in electric refrigerators during the 1930’s. Refrigerator manufacturers during this decade also replaced Sulphur dioxide with Freon 12 as the most commonly used refrigerant.

1930’s – The introduction of the freezer

1940’s – A household mainstay

In the 1940’s, consumers utilized their chilly compartments as frozen food storage. During this period, fridges went mass market: by 1944, 85% of American households owned a refrigerator.

1940’s – A household mainstay

Big Chill Retro Original Refrigerator in Buttercup Yellow
Big Chill Retro Original Refrigerator in Buttercup Yellow

1950’s – The rise of the household fridge

The 1950’s were a groundbreaking time for refrigerator enhancements. At that time, refrigerators were marketed toward housewives and were a prideful addition to any household. A popular home design and decorating scheme was to match your colorful refrigerator to the cupboards and walls of your kitchen. Refrigeration technology began to make significant advancements in the 1950’s, when game changing innovations like automatic ice makers and automatic defrost began appearing on the scene. In many ways, this was period represented the height of fridge design – our Retro Collection celebrates this unique time in design.

1950’s – The rise of the household fridge

Big Chill Retro Original Refrigerator in Classic White
Big Chill Retro Original Refrigerator in Classic White

1960’s- Futuristic design & big freezers

Household designs of the 1960’s reflected simple, yet futuristic looks with soft edges and design curves as can be seen in our Retropolitan Series. Refrigerators of the 60’s reflected this jump toward the future, hinting at a promising lifetime of domestic improvements and freedom. Freezer sizes were also increased in this decade, allowing hardworking moms to stock up on the booming food trend: frozen family dinners.

1960’s- Futuristic design & big freezers

Big Chill Retropolitan Refrigerator in Pink Lemonade
Big Chill Retropolitan Refrigerator in Pink Lemonade

1970’s: A focus on energy efficiency

Refrigerators in the 1970’s surprisingly took a turn back to the more boxy look of refrigerators in the 1940’s. The markets saw a rise in the popularity of compact and miniature fridges, and the environment became a top priority with the introduction of energy-efficient refrigerators and appliances to meet new standards put in place by various governments worldwide. A fridge in 1975 used about 2200 kWh/year of energy.

1970’s: A focus on energy efficiency

Big Chill Retropolitan Refrigerator in Buttercup Yellow
Big Chill Retropolitan Refrigerator in Buttercup Yellow

1980’s – Sturdy and utilitarian

Refrigerators built in the 1980’s were built to last, with new appliances featuring sturdy and utilitarian influenced designs. Homes of the 1980’s took on a more pragmatic design than decades past, and refrigerators were no exception to this. The elimination of chlorofluorocarbons in refrigerator sealed systems made refrigerators of this decade more safe and sensible in the eyes of manufacturers and consumers. A fridge in 1985 used about 1700 kWh of energy.

1980’s – Sturdy and utilitarian

1990’s – French doors and stainless facades

Appliance designs of 1990’s were aimed to be more sleek and modern, with the introduction of French style doors and stainless steel to refrigerator facades. Bulky refrigerators of the past were gradually falling out of style, with consumers favoring more contemporary and glamorous designs. Each decade furthered the advancement of electricity costs and energy efficiency, with climate change gaining notoriety in the public eye. The Energy Star system became a mainstay during this decade, with energy consumption falling to just 850 kWh/year.

1990’s – French doors and stainless facades

2000’s – Timeless aesthetics with modern day efficiency

The world is your oyster in the present-day refrigerator market. Futuristic and classic designs collide, allowing homeowners a broad range of choices when it comes to a new modern appliance. Current refrigerators maintain the aesthetics of some of the best mid-century modern designs, now coupled with the advantages of state-of-the-art energy efficiency.

As of the year 2013, a typical refrigerator only uses about one half of the energy that a model of comparable size would have used in the year 1970. Energy efficiency on a modern-day refrigerator can dip under 460 kWh a year, which is less than a 100 watt lightbulb. It’s a win-win for both consumers and mother nature.

Big Chill Classic Refrigerator in Stainless Steel with Chrome Trim
Big Chill Classic Refrigerator in Stainless Steel with Chrome Trim

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