Retro refrigerators like these were the cutting-edge in the 1920s & 1930s

Retro refrigerators - Vintage fridges for the home

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These retro refrigerators were a dream come true for homemakers

The humble refrigerator — today’s unassuming, cool-headed kitchen superstar — has quite the tale to tell! Its journey from an experimental gadget to a household necessity embodies the spirit of innovation that swept through the 20th century.

Before refrigerators, we had the charmingly rustic icebox, reliant on the to-and-fro of the iceman. But by the late 1920s and early 1930s, electricity was transforming every corner of the home, and the kitchen was not spared. In came the first electric retro refrigerators, with the likes of General Electric and Frigidaire pioneering the way.

Retro Frigidaire refrigerator from the 1930s
A vintage Frigidaire refrigerator from the 1930s

The early versions were quite the spectacle — bulky, noisy, and with the motor on top, they were called “monitor-tops.” Despite their size and expense, the allure of this new technology was simply too cool to resist. For the first time, homes could keep food consistently cold, ice cubes were available on demand, and the era of daily grocery shopping began to fade away. No more spoiled milk or leftovers, and ice cream was a dish best served at home!

In our kitchens today, the refrigerator is an unassuming hero. It’s not just a food preserver and a saver of holiday leftovers, but often a family notice board. As it hums quietly in the corner, remember to appreciate the cool history that underlies this everyday essential.

Retro refrigerators from Frigidaire (1929)

Some day you’ll buy her a Frigidaire… give her the convenience of making desserts with the famous “Cold Control.” Give her the care-free, healthful redrigeration assured by Frigidaire’s surplus power…

Frigidaire retro refrigerators (1929)

Retro refrigerators: General Electric Monitor Top (1931)

It is the marked simplicity of the General Electric Monitor Top—its positive freedom from attention—its 3-year record in homes—that now brings to new users a 3-Year Guarantee’ on the General Electric Refrigerator.

When General Electric Refrigeration comes to your home perishables stay fresh for days — ice cubes are always available and delicious dishes appear like magic. There’s scarcely a sound to remind you that a new standard of health, economy and convenience is. established. This is the continuous miracle that more than a million families now enjoy.

General Electric kitchen vintage refrigerators (1931)

Vintage Cyclops refrigerator for the home (1931)

The Cyclops Iron Works, established in San Francisco in 1873, has specialized for 41 years in designing and building commercial refrigeration plants for the Pacific Coast, having many thousands of Cyclops installations in Packing Plants, Markets, Milk and Dairy Products Plants, Delicatessens, Restaurants, Clubs, etc.

ALSO SEE: Antique iceboxes: What they were & how they worked their magic (1850s-1930s)

Now Cyclops turns this vast experience to the problem of Electric Refrigeration for the Home. They have pledged their reputation — built slowly and painstakingly over many years — that the Cyclops Refrigerator for the Home represents as great, if not a greater, value than any similar product on the market today.

Cyclops retro refrigerator for the home (1931)

Early 1930s vintage refrigerators by Frigidaire

Frigidaire vintage refrigerators from the early 1930s (2)

Model W6 Frigidaire antique refrigerator (1931)

This photograph illustrates the outstanding beauty of the single-door Frigidaire cabinet. Here again, you will find the distinctive design and the enduring white Porcelain-on-steel finish that characterizes the larger models.

Notice the correct proportions of width, depth and height… the balanced spacing of the satin-finished, heavily-plated fittings… the pleasing effect created by the practical service-shelf top and the graceful legs that harmonize with the simple lines of the cabinet. Most important of all, you will discover that the performance of Frigidaire is in keeping with its striking appearance. It is a refrigerator that is built to keep you satisfied in every way through many years.

Frigidaire refrigerators from the early 1930s (3)

Model W5 Frigidaire retro refrigerator (1931)

FOOD STORAGE CAPACITY: 5.2 cubic feet… FOOD STORAGE AREA: 11.5 square feet… EXTERIOR DIMENSIONS: 28-1/2″ wide; 24-1/2″ deep; 62″ high with legs; 58″ high with casters. (Depth includes 2″ at rear for ventilation, but does not include door or hardware)… NUMBER OF TRAYS: 3, for making ice and frozen desserts… ICE MAKING: NO. 117-TF Coil-63 cubes of ice, 9 pounds at one freezing . . .

CABINET — Exterior: white Porcelain-on-steel. Interior: acid-resisting Porcelain in food compartment where stains are most likely to occur. Complete with Hydrator, exterior “Cold Control” and Quickube Ice Tray. Equipped with legs as standard equipment.

Frigidaire refrigerators from the early 1930s (4)

Old-fashioned fridge interior: Shelves & sections

Frigidaire refrigerators from the early 1930s (1)

Electrolux retro fridges are almost magical: It freezes with heat (1935)

Nine years ago, America was startled and delighted by the introduction of a totally new and different system of refrigeration — the Electrolux, wherein a tiny gas flame produced constant cold and cubes of ice silently and unfailingly.

Electrolux gas refrigerator freezes with heat (1935)

Now, as then, Electrolux is a marvel of science — different in basic principle from any other type of household refrigerator, surpassing in performance. This new 1935 Electrolux was designed by women, for women. It’s a woman’s refrigerator, planned to bring sparkling new beauty into any kitchen. Electrolux looks to be what it is… the finest refrigerator you can own. But this is something you can see.

There are even more important and fundamental differences that you cannot see . . . differences that you will appreciate and enjoy from the very day you choose Electrolux. It has the simplest of all freezing methods. Electrolux operates with no moving parts . . . there is not a single piece of machinery in it.

How to fill a vintage refrigerator - Electrolux (1935)

A tiny gas flame keeps the simple refrigerant in circulation . . . ordinary air cools it. This simplicity is the reason for the famous Electrolux efficiency. It permits a remarkably low cost of operation, keeps Electrolux permanently silent, gives fullest food protection, and eliminates depreciation due to moving parts.

See the new models at your gas company’s or local dealer’s display room. Your gas company not only recommends Electrolux, but stands ready to service every one it sells.

America’s great gas industry endorses the 1935 Electrolux


Crosley Shelvador electric retro fridge (1935)

Vintage Crosley Shelvador electric fridge (1935)

Old GE ‘ageless’ retro refrigerator (1935)

Owners amazed at general electric’s ‘ageless’ refrigerator: General Electric monitor top mechanism proved most outstanding contribution to modern refrigeration. Its performance, year after year, outweighs in value all other refrigerator features combined.

Old General Electric ageless refrigerator (1935)

Vintage fridge and freezer from 1938

Vintage fridge and freezer from 1938

A LITTLE FUN: How to be a perfect ’50s housewife: Love your refrigerator!

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