Labeled black and white image of an icebox

An icebox is a compact non-mechanical refrigerator which was a common kitchen appliance before the development of safe powered refrigeration devices.


Iceboxes had hollow walls that were lined with tin or zinc and packed with various insulating materials such as cork, sawdust, straw or seaweed. A large block of ice was held in a tray or compartment near the top of the box. Cold air circulated down and around storage compartments in the lower section. Some finer models had spigots for draining ice water from a catch pan or holding tank. In cheaper models a drip pan was placed under the box and had to be emptied at least daily. The user had to replenish the melted ice, normally by obtaining new ice from an iceman.

Commonly iceboxes were made of wood, most probably for ease of construction, insulation, and aesthetics: many were handsome pieces of furniture.


A. Old Norwegian icebox. The ice was placed in the drawer above the door. B. Typical Victorian icebox highboy model. The model is made out as a fine piece of oak furniture. Note tin or zinc shelving and door lining. C. An exclusive oak cabinet icebox that would be found in the well-to-do homes. Note the fancy hardware and latches. Ice goes in the left upper door. This model probably has a pull-out drip tray.

Iceboxes date back to the days of ice harvesting, which, in a growing America, had hit an industrial high that ran from the mid-19th century to 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 as iceboxes became more common.

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.

With wide-spread electrification and safer refrigerants, mechanical refrigeration in the home became possible. With the development of the chlorofluorocarbons (along with the succeeding hydrochlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons), that came to replace the use of toxic ammonia gas, the refrigerator replaced the icebox. However, because of the prevalence of the icebox in recent human history, the name "icebox" is still used colloquially for the modern home refrigerator by older Americans in some regions.

The horse-drawn ice wagon and the daily occupation of the iceman, who made regular door-to-door deliveries of block ice for iceboxes, was as much a social institution as the milk man.

Apartment buildings had small doors that opened to the ice box from the back porch. The ice man would bring the block of ice and insert it into the ice box through this door. Ice was delivered on a regular basis to these buildings and the people would pay for the ice. Children would go on the ice wagon and take chips of fallen ice as treats during the summer.

See also

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • icebox — (n.) also ice box, 1839, from ICE (Cf. ice) (n.) + BOX (Cf. box) (n.) …   Etymology dictionary

  • icebox — ► NOUN 1) a chilled container for keeping food cold. 2) Brit. a compartment in a refrigerator for making and storing ice. 3) US dated a refrigerator …   English terms dictionary

  • icebox — ☆ icebox [īs′bäks΄ ] n. 1. a cabinet, box, or room with ice in it for keeping foods, etc., cold 2. Old fashioned a similar cabinet or room operating by mechanical refrigeration …   English World dictionary

  • icebox — n. (colloq.) to raid the icebox ( to eat heartily esp. during the night ) * * * [ aɪsbɒks] (colloq.) to raid the icebox ( to eat heartily esp. during the night ) …   Combinatory dictionary

  • icebox — UK [ˈaɪsˌbɒks] / US [ˈaɪsˌbɑks] noun [countable] Word forms icebox : singular icebox plural iceboxes 1) American old fashioned a refrigerator 2) a box that is filled with ice and used to keep food cold …   English dictionary

  • icebox — [[t]a͟ɪsbɒks[/t]] iceboxes also ice box N COUNT An icebox is the same as a refrigerator. [AM, OLD FASHIONED] …   English dictionary

  • icebox — noun Date: 1846 refrigerator …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • icebox — /uys boks /, n. 1. an insulated cabinet or chest with a partition for ice, used for preserving or cooling food, beverages, etc. 2. Older Use. an electric or gas refrigerator. 3. Naut. an enclosed area in the bottom of a vessel through which sea… …   Universalium

  • icebox — 1. noun a) A box containing ice, used to keep food cold. b) A compartment in a refrigerator that is colder than the rest of the refrigerator and is used as a freezer. 2. adjective agreeable, awesome …   Wiktionary

  • icebox — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) n. refrigerator, Frigidaire. See cold. II (Roget s IV) n. Syn. cooler, freezer, fridge*; see refrigerator …   English dictionary for students

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