Origins of the Ice Cube Tray: An Invention that Revolutionized the Beverage Industry

Iced drinks are ubiquitous today. Whether you’re drinking iced coffee, chilled white wine, or a simple glass of water with ice cubes, it’s a luxury almost everyone in the world enjoys. But did you know ice cubes were hard to come by a couple of hundred years ago?

Yes, ice cubes were reserved for the rich because, to have them in your home, you’d need to have an entire block of ice delivered to your door and chiseled into small squares. It was only in the late 1920s that ice cube trays were manufactured for commercial use, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Where It All Began

There is no single person credited with being the inventor of ice trays. The ice industry was a million-dollar industry in the 1800s when companies would carve out ice blocks from lakes and ponds and sell them to beverage producers and other companies that needed ice. The blocks were used to preserve food and medicine as they were being transported from one location to another and to keep produce fresh when traveling across oceans.

Though the first ice cube trays have been hard to pinpoint, historians believe it was in 1844 when they were first used. An American physician by the name of John Gorrie was trying to find a way to help his patients suffering from yellow fever. He concocted a way for refrigerators to make ice to cool the air for his patients. Documents also show that the patients received iced drinks as part of their treatment.

According to experts, it is believed that Dr. Gorrie used some form of ice trays in producing the ice.

DOMELRE: The Appliance That Failed But Inspired Modern Ice Cube Trays

In 1914, inventor Fred Wolf created DOMELRE, which stands for Domestic Electric Refrigerator. It was a refrigerator with a simple built-in ice cube tray. However, the appliance did not receive any success, and production halted, with no traces of acclaim whatsoever. But it was because of the DOMELRE that manufacturers of home appliances in the 20s to 30s had the idea of including ice cube trays with refrigerators.

The Very First Rubber Ice Cube Tray

Lloyd G. Copeman was an avid inventor who started his own company in 1911 called the Copeman Electric Stove Company. His company was one of the very first manufacturers of electric stoves, and aside from this, he had 700 patents for different appliances, tools, and technologies under his name. This was the time of the Industrial Revolution when inventions and new technologies were produced one after the other.

One day, Copeman gathered sap from his family farm in Metamora in Lapeer County, Michigan. It was freezing cold with temperatures below zero when he noticed ice forming in his boots. He sat down and casually flicked his shoes together to get rid of the formed ice, and with one flick, the trapped ice flipped off his boots. He suddenly came up with the idea of creating rubber ice trays and met with his patent lawyer the next day.

Copeman created three patents for his rubber ice cube trays, and in just 17 days, he received the patent and started the manufacturing process. His invention, commercially available in 1928, gave him more than $1 million in sales and royalties over the years before the patent was sold to General Motors.

Stainless Steel Ice Cube Trays: A Worthy Rival

To make more precise and durable ice cube trays, Guy L. Tinkham produced the world’s first ever stainless steel ice trays. He was the vice president of home appliance manufacturer General Utilities Mfg. Co., and named the ice tray “The McCord Ice Tray.” It was made available in 1933 and was the first ever ice tray that flexed sideways to make it easier to eject the ice cubes.

Variations of ice cube trays eventually evolved through the years, with ice trays having levers to remove the ice cubes to plastic trays that were more affordable.

The Silicone Ice Cube Tray: The Modern Take to Versatile Ice Trays

In 2007, silicone ice cube trays seemed to pop up in the market overnight. These were affordable, flexible, and could be molded into all shapes and sizes. No longer were ice cube trays limited to primary forms of square, rectangle, or oval, but they could now be made in all kinds of shapes, from fruit shapes to cartoon characters and everybody imaginable.

Silicone ice trays have become the most popular, widely used, and recognized ice cube trays, leaving stainless steel, rubber, and plastic trays behind. They’re also deemed the most eco-friendly and safest to use.

Today’s modern ice cube tray may seem like a simple invention that’s become more of a necessity than a luxury. But it’s essential to know the history behind the things we enjoy today to ensure that we never take something so trivial for granted in today’s world. With ice cubes being an essential tool to enjoy everyday cold drinks, it doesn’t matter if you have Target ice trays or a designer tray from a high-end brand.

If you use it right, you can enjoy a cool, refreshing, and satisfying iced beverage wherever you may be, thanks to the men and women who ensured future generations experienced quality, safe, and efficient ice cube trays.

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