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The 1927 General Electric Monitor Top Refrigerator

Located in the kitchen of our Harrington House exhibit is this restored Type D-2-A16 monitor top refrigerator. Depending on the model these modern home appliances could cost from $300-$500. Compare that with the price of a new 1927 Model T Ford at $380 fresh from the factory.

Electric companies were known to offer units like this for a mere $5-10 per month that would be added on to your utility bill. Annual wages for this era were between $1,500 -$2,300. Owning a GE Monitor Top was perhaps a status symbol of the day.

As seen from the print ads, this appliance was a significant improvement. Imagine the use of one advertising slogan "Makes it safe to be hungry". This clearly gives the impression that it was common for food to spoil.

Reference the ad below that claims it's always summertime in your kitchen referring to the warmth of the home that can cause food to be subject to the dangers of contamination.

These units were solid, reliable and quiet. The ad states that no one has spent one dollar on repairs, perhaps, but they were dependable.

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A Brief History of Household Refrigeration

Domestic refrigerators were available as early as 1911, but they cost in the neighborhood of $1,000. After World War I, the Kelvinator began production, so named after Lord Kelvin, the father of thermodynamics. the unit was small and made of wood.

In 1921 General Motors, owner of Frigidaire, entered the home market. At this time there were barely 5,000 domestic refrigerators in use. This unit was constructed of wood and was quite large.

By 1923, there were about 56 companies making refrigerators. Using dangerously toxic fluids as the compressant, such as sulfur dioxide, or methyl chloride, was standard practice.

In 1927, GE designed the first Monitor Top refrigerator, a hermetically sealed unit with the all-steel constructed cabinet, which at the time, only came in white.

It was known as the Monitor-Top because the condenser was on top of the refrigerator in a separate enclosure that looked like the turret from the U.S.S. Monitor, the famous ironclad ship from the Civil War.

Typical freezer space was small (room for two ice cube trays) as Clarence Birdseye had yet to perfect and market his frozen food process that began as an experiment in 1930.