Our icemaker went on the blink recently. Like an old hen on the nest, it just wasn’t producing. We’d get a few puny cubes per day, not nearly enough to sustain our “ice habit.” A call to the repairman – and one, new water valve later – and our icemaker was once again overflowing.
It’s hard to imagine life today without ice. But it wasn’t always that way. Until about 200 hundred years ago, ice was just something that happened in winter. In the 19th century, a few industrious sorts began shipping ice, harvested from natural formations, to tropical countries, which had never had or seen ice. In the early 20th century, and with the availability of industrial electricity, ice was manufactured in plants and delivered by horse and wagon to individual homes, to be stored in something called an “icebox.” Some of the older Boomers may remember an icebox in their own homes, while others recall seeing one at Grandma’s house.
Iceboxes were non-mechanical instruments that used insulating materials such as cork, straw, sawdust and even seaweed to keep heat out and cold in. A large block of ice – usually about 20 pounds – was stored in a compartment near the top. Since warm air rises and colder, heavier air falls, the cool air from the top of the icebox circulated down and around the storage compartment to keep the contents chilled. A drip pan beneath had to be emptied daily. Every few days, the iceman replenished the melted blocks.
The electric refrigerator emerged in force after World War II. America was booming and the newly affluent families were tired of scrimping and rationing and demanded modern conveniences like refrigerators. Now, homeowners could make their own ice – with a few drawbacks. Freezer space, for one, was limited to two ice trays. The early ice trays were metal, sometimes aluminum, and getting ice out was a genuine chore.
One commandment observed by every Boomer was: “Thou shalt fill up the ice trays after you use them.”
Nothing was worse than going to the fridge only to find one cube of ice wedged in the tray. And perhaps the coldest thing on this planet was a metal ice tray right out of the freezer. Woe be to any young Boomer who may have dared to lick the tray with his or her tongue, because it would indeed get stuck.
The early ice trays were designed such that by pulling up and back on a lever, the ice cubes would dislodge and fall out. Maybe they were designed that way, but that’s not the way it worked. If the tray was filled to the top (and it usually was) it took the strength of Hercules for a youngster to pull the lever hard enough to break up the cubes. Then, half of the ice remained stuck to the tray while the rest was scattered across the counter. Believe it or not, it was the 1960’s before someone came up with plastic ice trays, which gave up the cubes easily when twisted.
In the evolution of coldness, automatic icemakers were next to find a home in modern society followed by refrigerators with front ice and water dispensers. Today, all you have to do is hold a glass beneath the ice dispenser, push a button and watch in horror as the new gizmo sends a half dozen cubes across the kitchen floor and drops one or two in your glass.
We’ve come a long way, baby.