Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mary Randolph's 1825 Refrigerator

Mary Randolph included a sketch of a refrigerator in the 1825 2d edition of The Virginia Housewife.  It was a wooden box within another wooden box with crushed charcoal in-between.  It was described in 1815, but not the first refrigerator...

Thomas Moore’s 1802 patented refrigerator, described in a previous blog post HERE, consisted of a tin box surrounded with ice in a wooden oval box. He published a 28 page pamphlet in 1803 which was reviewed extensively in at least one national journal.  Moore wrote a detailed letter for newspapers, such as the Washington Federalist in Sept. 1802.  Thomas Jefferson bought Moore's refrigerator in 1804.  There were various descriptions of refrigerators using charcoal as insulation, such as Randolph’s, as early as 1806.

Mary Randolph (1762–1828)  was related to Jefferson, HERE who bought a Moore refrigerator in 1804, and to the Custis family of Arlington House, now Arlington Cemetery, where she is buried. Although once wealthy, Mary and her husband David's strong federalist views were a possible reason her husband lost his government job. David worked a variety of jobs and took out a couple of patents in 1809. Mary operated a boarding house in Richmond, Va., from 1808 to 1820, when they moved to DC and she wrote her cookbook.   A biography of Randolph, and an online copy of the Virginia Housewife is HERE

She was described in 1807 by Harman Blennerhassett, who wrote in his diary about meeting “… Mrs. David Randolph, who is a middle-aged lady, and very accomplished; of charming manners, and possessing a masculine mind. ...she certainly uttered more treason than my wife ever dreamed of…” [The Blennerhassett Papers. Cincinnati: 1864] 

First published in 1824, the very popular Virginia House-wife cookbook went through a couple editions and continued to be reprinted for many years, but the plans for the refrigerator and a bath tub only appeared in the 1825 2nd edition. 

Thirty years later, Mordecai wrote in his history of Richmond that Randolph invented “the 'Refrigerator' as she called it” but “it was said a shrewd Yankee, who was an inmate [lodger] of her [Richmond boarding] house for a few days, to whom she showed it, carried the invention with him, perhaps obtained a patent, and it soon got into general use.” Mordecai did not make this claim in his first edition Richmond in by-gone days, 1856. [Virginia, especially Richmond, in by-gone days. Samuel Mordecai. Richmond: 1860]

Randolph opened her boarding house by 1808, which was after the 1802 Moore patent, and purchase by Thomas Jefferson. Mordecai's 1860 claim that Mary invented the refrigerator is very suspect, let's just say false, yet it is repeated on some websites.  

Two "Georgetown, D.C." men - Bronaugh and Talbot - did patent in 1813 an ice box which was very similar to Randolph’s 1825 image (above) and an 1815 description by Horry. We don’t know if either Randolph or the men knew about Moore's 1802 patent, or each other's plan, or who fashioned it first.  Her husband had gone through the patent process in 1809, so if she really had been first to invent that particular style (she did not invent the refrigerator), she would have known about patents and the money that could be made from selling the use of the plans.  She does not state that she actually invented the Refrigerator or Bath.  And the boxes had a variety of names including "portable ice house," "butter box," "ice box" during this period.

The two plans are similar, except the men’s ice box has a tube to take the melted ice water out of the box. The outer box was 6’ x 2' x 2' (Randolph - 4 x 3 x 3 ½ feet deep) with a 2 inch (Randolph - 4 inch) space for compacted dry pulverized charcoal. The basket of ice sat in a 2 inch deep pan with a tube to take the melted water out of the box. (Randolph - ice frame sits in a tub which collects the water). 

The ice "basket is to be constructed to hold from one, to one and a half pecks of ice. It is found that this quantity will keep all articles put into the Refrigerator perfectly cool for twenty-four hours, and in that space of time, not more than one half the ice will be found to melt. It is proper however, to fill up the basket every morning.” [John W. Bronaugh and Jesse Talbot, of George Town, D.C. 1813 patent]  Randolph wrote "with judicious management it will require but little ice to keep up the quantity in the frame."

Butter pads are shown in Randolph’s sketch on the shelf to the right of the ice frame in the tub.  There is a "tripod to stand over the plate in the [tin] bucket, and to hold another plate of butter without pressing the prints together." [Randolph, 1825].

The Randolph refrigerator sketch is remarkable in showing the inside and contents of an early household refrigerator.

Starting on May 28, 1815 Harriott (Pinckney) Horry lodged a few days at Mrs. Randolph's boarding house on her trip north from Charleston, SC. - 10 years before it was pictured in Randolph's cookbook, and two years after the Georgetown men took out a patent.  Her description and measurements are similar to the cookbook write-up... the space between the two boxes "ram'd tight with powderd charcoal"  and held five "packs" of ice for 24 hours. Horry's entire description and drawing at my post HERE

From Randolph's 1825 directions (click image to enlarge) :  In the center of the inner box is an Ice Frame (E) on a Tub (D) to catch the melting water. "When the refrigerator first goes into operation, fill the ice frame to the top; raise the lids every morning, place in all the articles that are to be cooled, put in ice to supply the deficiency occasioned by melting, and when the tub is nearly full of water, empty it.  With judicious management it will require but little ice to keep up the quantity in the frame."  

So the food would not touch the ice, Benches (C) held bottles (F), and (G) "Tin bucket to hold a plate with a print of butter on it.  (H) Tripod to stand over the plate in the bucket, and to hold another plate of butter without pressing he prints together."

"The refrigerator is more convenient than an ice house, for keeping both raw and cooked provisions; water melons, milk, butter, &c. &c. and for corning meat under the benches, in the hottest summer."

For more posts on Mary Randolph's life and many of her recipes: HERE
For more posts on refrigerators - with Horry's drawings HERE

Some sources -
The Blennerhassett Papers. Cincinnati: 1864
Horry.  A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriott Pinckney Horry, 1770.  USC, 1984
Horry.  The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition.  UVA Press
Moore, Thomas.  An Essay on the Most Eligible Construction of Ice-Houses. Also, A Description of the Newly Invented Machine Called the Refrigerator. Thomas Moore. Baltimore: 1803
Mordecai, Samuel.  Virginia, especially Richmond, in by-gone days. Richmond: 1860
Patent. John W. Bronaugh and Jesse Talbot, of George Town, D.C. March 16, 1813 #X001892
Randolph, Mary.  The Virginia Housewife.  Washington: 1825
Randolph, Mary.  The Virginia Housewife.  Washington: 1824, 1825, 1828  ed. Karen Hess

©2012 Patricia Bixler Reber

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