What Is the Difference Between an Ice Box and a Refrigerator?

An icebox is an insulated box that is cooled by ice, while a refrigerator is an electrical appliance that is cooled by a refrigerant and a complex set of parts. Iceboxes were commonly used before the discovery of a safe way to deliver electricity to homes.

City dwellers were more apt to have iceboxes because they depended on a regular delivery of ice to keep foods cold. Ice plants sprang up, huge buildings that stored ice taken from local ponds, rivers and even icebergs. The ice was cut into cubes just big enough to fit in the icebox storage space, which was accessed from outside. The delivery man opened the exterior door and set the ice in with giant tongs.

Refrigerators simply plug into a power source. The refrigerant keeps cold air circulating at an even temperature, something not possible when relying on ice deliveries. The continuous cold keeps food fresh longer, making it safer to eat. By the 1950s, refrigerators were considered a must-have in every kitchen.

Iceboxes are still produced today, but most are for recreational use. Some smaller RVs have iceboxes installed instead of refrigerators. These ice boxes have better insulation, making the ice last longer. A drain hole is drilled through the floor of the RV to accommodate a water drainage hose.