An icebox (also called a cold closet) is a compact non-mechanical refrigerator which was a common early-twentieth-century kitchen appliance before the development of safe powered refrigeration devices. Before the development of electric refrigerators, "iceboxes" were referred to by the public as refrigerators. Only after the invention of the modern day electric refrigerator did the early non electric refrigerators become known as an icebox.
Iceboxes, invented by Thomas Moore in 1802, has hollow walls that are lined with tin or zinc and packed with various insulating materials such as cork, sawdust, straw or seaweed. A large block of ice is held in a tray or compartment near the top of the box. Cold air circulates down and around storage compartments in the lower section. Some finer models have spigots for draining ice water from a catch pan or holding tank. In cheaper models a drip pan is placed under the box and has to be emptied at least daily. The user has to replenish the melted ice, normally by obtaining new ice from an iceman.
Iceboxes date back to the days of ice harvesting, which had hit an industrial high that ran from the mid-19th century until the 1930s, when the refrigerator was introduced into the home. Most municipally consumed ice was harvested in winter from snow-packed areas or frozen lakes, stored in ice houses, and delivered domestically. In 1827 the commercial ice cutter was invented, which increased the ease and efficiency of harvesting natural ice. This invention made ice cheaper and in turn helped the icebox become more common. Various companies appeared including Sears, The Baldwin Refrigerator Company, and the Ranney Refrigerator Company started up to get into the icebox manufacturing industry. In 1907 survey of expenditures of New York City inhabitants, 81% of the families surveyed were found to possess "refrigerators" either in the form of ice stored in a tub or iceboxes. The widespread use of iceboxes was partially credited with reduction of US infant mortality in summer months.
With metropolitan growth, many sources of natural ice became contaminated from industrial pollution or sewer runoff. As early mechanical refrigerators became available, they were installed as large industrial plants producing ice for home delivery. Able to produce clean, sanitary ice year-round, their product gradually replaced ice harvested from ponds.