The IcyBall – Crosley Radio Corporation’s Refrigerator for Non-Electrified Rural America

IcyBall Advertising Graphic, Popular Mechanics, August 1930

IcyBall Advertising Graphic, Popular Mechanics,
August 1930, p.27[1]

“For Farms!  For homes where ice supply is uncertain!  For camps!  For roadside stores!. . . For anyone who wants the pleasure, safety, convenience of a constant ice supply for 2 cents a day.”

 — Advertisement, Farm Mechanics, September 1928[2]

 

Ice - 2-cents a Day - Crosley IcyBall Advertisement, Depicts Heating Arrangement

Crosley IcyBall Advertisement Depicting the Lifting and Heating of the IcyBall Unit (Farm Mechanics, 1928,[2] Public Domain Image Courtesy of Crosley Automobile Club IcyBall Ads Page). (Click for an enlarged view.)

In the early 1900’s, methods of keeping food cool in the hot summers of the U. S. Midwest were limited.  Ice boxes were popular in cities in towns where ice delivery was available, and sometimes ice could be picked up or delivered to rural homes if they weren’t too distant from an affordable source.

In 1927, the same year the General Electric Monitor-Top Refrigerator was making home refrigeration more popular in electrified cities and towns, the Crosley Radio Corporation introduced a non-electric home refrigeration option powered by the heat of a stove burner:  The Crosley IcyBall.

The IcyBall was marketed well into the 1930’s to homes and businesses with limited access to electricity or ice.  It required no electricity and operated silently with no motor or moving parts.  The user was required to “charge” the system—usually daily–by lifting the 35-pound double-ball unit to heat the “hot” ball over a gentle heat source (generally a burner fueled by kerosene) while the “cold” ball (or ice ball) side hung immersed in a tall tub of water.  The heating process usually took about one-and-a-half hours.

IcyBall Heating Setup Figure from Owner's Manual

IcyBall Heating Setup Figure from Owner’s Manual. Note the low laundry-type stove burner. Other sources suggest a camp-type stove burner. Kerosene was often the fuel of choice. (Figure 2 from Public Domain Owner’s Manual, digitized and presented courtesy of Crosley Auto Club’s IcyBall Pages.)

IcyBall Refrigerator Figure with Depiction of Optional Stabilizer (from Owner's Manual)

IcyBall Refrigerator Figure with Depiction of Optional Stabilizer (Owner’s Manual Figure 5, Public Domain Image Courtesy of Crosley Automobile Club IcyBall Pages)

Crosley IcyBall Refrigerator on Display at the Central Kansas Flywheels Yesteryear Museum, Salina, Kansas

Crosley IcyBall Refrigerator on Display at the Central Kansas Flywheels Yesteryear Museum, Salina, Kansas (Photo by PrairieYesteryear.com)

When fully “charged,” a built-in whistle sounded.  The user lifted the IcyBall unit from the burner and dunked the hot side into the water tub to accelerate the cooling process before returning the unit to its position straddling the side of the refrigerator chest.

The ice-ball contained a cylindrical sleeve-like passage through the ice ball which provided frozen temperatures sufficient to make ice cream or ice in the provided tray.[3]

IcyBall advertisements challenged icebox users to compare the cost of 1.5 hours of stove fuel versus the cost of a day’s ice delivery. In 1929, Crosley estimated a country-wide average operational cost of about 2 cents a day.[2] The IcyBall cost $80 in 1928,[2] $85 in 1929.[4], [5], [6]

Regardless of the cost, in many rural areas, regular ice delivery for iceboxes was simply unavailable or impractical.

A 1929 IcyBall advertisement in Country Gentleman magazine quotes Kansas farmer Carl Moyer on some advantages opened to the rural user by such an appliance:

“From the cream produced by seven cows we get $2.25 and more than we got before we used the Icyball because with it we can always get Grade One cream. Besides we make one trip to the creamery instead of two as before. This makes a total saving of more than $3.00 a week which in one season will pay for itself. Then we have ice for the table and ice cream whenever we want it. Believe me, we like our Icyball.”[4]

IcyBall also advertised in Farm Mechanics, Popular Mechanics,[1] and was promoted in Scientific American’s September 1929 issue.[7]  Crosley’s network of radio dealers were encouraged to “push” the IcyBall.[8] Advertisements of 1929 claimed that 22,000 Icyball units were sold in the previous year.[4], [6] By 1932, 100,000 units were sold.[9]

Ad Encouraging Crosley Dealers to Promote the IcyBall for Rural Homes and Businesses (April 1935)

Ad Encouraging Crosley Dealers to Promote the IcyBall for Rural Homes and Businesses (April 1935, Crosley Broadcaster, Public Domain Image Courtesy of Crosley Automobile Club IcyBall Ads Page)

When the Icyball was introduced in 1927, the Crosley Radio Corporation of Cincinnati had already made name for itself since 1920 by offering $7 to $20 radio sets at a time when the cheapest radios to be found had been $119.[9], [10]

Crosley applied this same principle of affordability to kitchen appliances.  Following its IcyBall success, Crosley introduced electric refrigerators in 1931, and in 1933, the “Shelvador,” the first refrigerator with recessed storage space built into the door.[9], [10]

 

Cross Section of IcyBall, Refinements Patent, Issued 23 June 1931

Cross Section of IcyBall, Refinements Patent, Issued 23 June 1931, image courtesy of Crosley Automobile Club, Inc., IcyBall Page

How the IcyBall Worked

The IcyBall is an absorption cooling system, a technique still used in propane R.V. refrigerators and modern kerosene refrigerators. (Today’s absorption refrigerators contain more controls or additional technologies to eliminate the need for periodic manual attention to recharge (reheat) the system.)[11], [12], [13]

The 2 ball “unit” ready for “recharging” contains a solution of ammonia in water in the hot-ball side. The heating step causes ammonia (which has a lower evaporation point than water) to vaporize from an ammonia-water solution in the hot ball and to travel in gaseous form through the U-shaped connecting tube to the cold ball, where it condenses in the high-pressure (around 250 psi) caused by the heating process.

After charging, as the whole system cools, the pressure reduces, allowing some liquid ammonia on in the cold ball to evaporate, making its way in gaseous form back to the “hot ball” side, where it is reabsorbed into solution with the water until the next heating process. The process of evaporation in the cold ball pulls heat from the outer environment surrounding the cold ball, causing it to ice. As ammonia gas is absorbed, pressure lowers further and allows more liquid ammonia to evaporate. This gradual process continues to pull heat from the insulated chest, keeping it cool, until the ammonia has mostly recombined with the water. At that point, it is time for recharging.[11], [12], [14]

IcyBall offered an optional “stabilizer” base filled with glycerin or other odorless radiator antifreeze solution. This provided a more stable temperature, particularly during the hour and a half when the IcyBall unit was removed for recharging.[03], [11]


Sources


[1]Crosley Radio Corporation, “Ice from Heat,” (advertisement) Popular Mechanics, August 1930, http://books.google.com/books/about/Popular_Mechanics.html?id=iuIDAAAAMBAJ.

[2]Crosley Radio Corporation, “Ice, 2-Cents a Day,” (advertisement) Farm Mechanics, Sept 1928, provided courtesy of the Crosley Automobile Club, Inc., “IcyBall Ads,” http://crosleyautoclub.com/IcyBall/icyball_ads.htm.

[3] Crosley Radio Corporation, “Instructions for Crosley Icyball Refrigerator,” digitized and published  by Crosley Automobile Club, Inc., http://crosleyautoclub.com/IcyBall/IB_Manual/operations_manual.html.

[4] Crosley Radio Corporation, “Refrigeration,” (advertisement) The Country Gentleman, June 1929, p. 90, provided courtesy of the Crosley Automobile Club, Inc., “IcyBall Ads,” http://crosleyautoclub.com/IcyBall/icyball_ads.htm.

[5]Crosley Radio Corporation, “Ice, 2-Cents a Cake,” (advertisement) Farm Mechanics, September 1928, provided courtesy of the Crosley Automobile Club, Inc., “IcyBall Ads,” http://crosleyautoclub.com/IcyBall/icyball_ads.htm.

[6]Crosley Radio Corporation, “Ice, 2-Cents a Cake,” (advertisement) Farm Mechanics, July 1929, provided courtesy of the Crosley Automobile Club, Inc., “IcyBall Ads,” http://crosleyautoclub.com/IcyBall/icyball_ads.htm.

[7]“The ‘Heat Makes Cold’ Refrigeration Unit,” Scientific American, Sept 1929. Article scan provided courtesy of Crosley Automobile Club, Inc., IcyBall Page, http://crosleyautoclub.com/IcyBall/crosley_icyball.html.

[8] Crosley Radio Corporation, “Make Profits Now with this Amazing Refrigerator for Rural Homes,” Crosley Broadcaster, April 1, 1935, provided courtesy of the Crosley Automobile Club, Inc., “IcyBall Ads,” http://crosleyautoclub.com/IcyBall/icyball_ads.htm.

[9]Crosley Corporation, “Crosley Timeline,” http://www.crosleyradio.com/timeLine.aspx, 2010.

[10]Gerald Piel. “Powel Crosley, Jr.,” Life Magazine,” Vol. 22, No. 7, 17 Feb 1947, p. 47-54 (http://books.google.com/books?id=4UkEAAAAMBAJ).

[11]Wikipedia, “IcyBall,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icy_Ball, 5 June 2012 08:16, accessed 15 Jun 2012.

[12]Wikipedia, “Absorption Refrigerator,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absorption_refrigerator, accessed 15 Jun 2012.

[13]Lehman Hardware & Appliances Inc., “How do gas refrigerators work?,” http://www.gasrefrigerators.com/faq/how-gas-refrigerators-work, accessed 15 Jun 2012.

[14]Peter and Roger Metcalfe, Engineering Studies: Year 11. Pascal Press, 2004, p.27-28.

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