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Oral History: Refrigerators

Technology: The 'Fridge' Arrives

The refrigerator was another great invention, first introduced before World War One, that would revolutionise twentieth century homes. However, it was not until after the Second World War that many New Zealand homes obtained this modern means of maintaining food in a safe and appetising condition.

In many modest southern Dunedin homes, however, kitchen safes and traditional methods of preserving remained the most common ways of storing food and keeping it fresh for most of the study period.

preserve summer produceBefore refrigeration one of a South Dunedin cook's tasks was to preserve summer produce for winter. A large preserving pan of conductive metal such as silver, copper or brass was essential to ensure the produce cooked evenly. Scales for accurately weighing the ingredients were also a necessity along with utensils for resting hot pans, stirring, pouring, skimming the froth and storing the finished product. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

Meat SafeOther than preserving, the main method of keeping perishable food, especially meat, cool and ventilated in the days before refrigeration was to place it in a 'safe'. Safes were often set into a wall in a shady portion of the house. Small holes or slats let in air for ventilation whilst keeping flies out. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

iceboxIn some households an icebox provided an alternative to the safe, requiring regular delivery of giant sized blocks of ice to replenish the box. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

Although home refrigerators were invented before World War One, ownership of refrigerators in New Zealand was not widespread until after World War Two. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s they remained expensive consumer items that were out of reach for many households. Even by 1956 only 25.7% of Dunedin households owned a refrigerator. Frigidaire and Westinghouse were two companies whose names would become synonymous with refrigeration. This is an early model Frigidaire. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

Frigidaire refrigeratorSafety, convenience and low usage of electricity (and therefore low cost of operation) are emphasised in this newspaper advertisement for a Frigidaire refrigerator. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

Westinghouse refrigeratorThis advertisement for an early model Westinghouse refrigerator warns of the health dangers to families of keeping milk supplies outside a refrigerated 'safety zone'. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)


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