The Timeline: Fridges

1748 False start

William Cullen, professor of chemistry and medicine at Edinburgh University, demonstrates artificial refrigeration for the first time. His "vapour compression system" only meets interest among experimental scientists.

1834 Cool idea

American inventor Jacob Perkins reveals the first refrigeration unit to an admiring crowd in London's Fleet Street. Using fellow inventor Oliver Evans' unpatented ideas, Perkins' wooden box succeeds in "cooling fluids and producing ice". Perkins patents his idea, but high costs and unreliability make it slow to catch on.

1890s A dangerous chill

To improve the cooling process, toxic methyl chloride gas is used as a refrigerant but several people die when a faulty unit leaks in a Chicago factory. It is 30 years before boffins create the compound Freon so that fridge ownership no longer means dicing with death.

1930 Beginning of the boom

Electrolux begins selling the first widely available domestic refrigerator, marketed to Americans as "a compact product for the modern kitchenette". By 1939 two million US homes boast an Electrolux fridge.

1959 Fridges get hot

It took the summer of 1959, the second hottest on record, for fridges to take over from the cold slab in British kitchens. With temperatures hitting 34C, huge amounts of food are spoiled – good news for Electrolux's buzzing box.

1980s Magnetic attraction

A boon for time-pressed couples everywhere, alphabet fridge magnets go on sale in the UK. The fridge door briefly supplants notepaper as the way to tell your partner you've "gon2shops".

2002 White goods mountain

Britain gains its first "fridge mountain" after the EU bans burying old fridges and freezers. With no British companies able to process them, a hill of 15,000 appliances rises on Chelson Meadow, Plymouth. It's a year before the council sends the fridges for recycling in Germany.

2010 Old and cold

An English Electric fridge from 1947 makes headlines as the oldest refrigerator in use in the UK. Despite admitting it makes a noise "like a traction engine", its 89-year-old owner Ivy Ashley tells reporters she was happy with the appliance and plans to keep using it.