How did people keep things cold before refrigerators?

Answered by Jason Smith

Before the invention of refrigerators, people had to rely on various methods to keep things cold. These methods evolved over time as different solutions were discovered and improved upon. Let’s explore some of these methods in detail.

1. Underground Storage: One of the earliest methods of keeping things cold was storing them underground. People would dig holes in the ground, usually in shaded areas, and use them as natural refrigerators. These holes would provide a cool and stable environment, helping to preserve food for longer periods. This method was commonly used for storing root vegetables, fruits, and even dairy products.

2. Nooks in Wooden Walls: Another technique involved creating small nooks or compartments in wooden walls. These nooks would be located in cooler areas of the house, such as near windows or on the north-facing side. The insulating properties of the wood, combined with the cooler temperatures outside, would help maintain a lower temperature inside these compartments.

3. Community Cooling Houses: In many villages, community cooling houses were built to store perishable items. These houses were specifically designed to maximize airflow and maintain a cooler temperature. They often had thick walls made of insulating materials like clay or stone. The houses would have specific shelves or storage areas for meat, fruits, and vegetables, ensuring a longer shelf life for these items.

4. Cooler Locations: People also utilized naturally cooler locations in their homes, such as cellars or basements. These areas were often dug into the ground, providing a naturally cooler environment. Clay or stone walls would help maintain the lower temperature. Food items were stored in wooden or clay containers, which further helped in preserving their freshness.

5. Ice Harvesting: In colder regions, ice harvesting was a common practice. During the winter, ice would be cut from frozen lakes or rivers and stored in ice houses or iceboxes. These boxes were well-insulated and often lined with materials like sawdust or straw to prevent melting. The harvested ice would then be used throughout the year to keep food and beverages cold.

6. Evaporative Cooling: Evaporative cooling was another method used to keep things cold in hot climates. This technique involved using the principle of evaporation to lower the temperature. Water-soaked cloths or clay pots would be placed in well-ventilated areas, and as the water evaporated, it would create a cooling effect. This method was effective for keeping drinks and small food items cool.

7. Insulated Containers: To transport perishable items over long distances, insulated containers were used. These containers were often made of wood or clay and lined with insulating materials like straw or sawdust. The insulation helped in maintaining a lower temperature inside, preserving the freshness of the food during transportation.

8. Cooling Techniques: People also employed various cooling techniques, such as using fans or windcatchers, to circulate air and create a cooling effect. In some cultures, wet cloth or clay pots were hung in front of windows or doorways to take advantage of the breeze and cool the incoming air.

As you can see, before the advent of refrigerators, people had to rely on ingenuity and a deep understanding of their environment to keep things cold. These traditional methods were often labor-intensive but essential for preserving food and ensuring its availability during different seasons.