The Crosley IcyBall had its humble beginnings in the late 1920’s when most of rural America did not have access to electricity. The first patent on the Icy Ball was filed in 1927 by David Forbes Keith of Canada. Later, an improved patent was applied and assigned to the Crosley Radio Corporation. The Crosley Radio Corporation is the same organization that was responsible for the Crosley radio and the line of Crosley automobiles, which are highly collectible to this day.
I will not go into a lot of detail here on the history of the Crosley IcyBall as there are several websites that have done a great job at researching and bringing to light the history of this famous primitive refrigerator. One of these websites is “The Crosley Auto Collectors Club” page, a site designed for collectors of Crosley automobiles. This is a great group of people and they have thoroughly researched the Crosley IcyBall and traced its beginnings in the late 1920’s all the way up to modern day collectors. You can access their great website by clicking HERE.
There is no way that I can put together a better history or historical website of the Crosley IcyBall than what these people have done at the Crosley Auto Collector’s Club site linked above. When I was first learning about the IcyBall, I studied their site daily and there is no place on the web better than their site in regards to the Crosely IcyBall.
Another excellent website for information and history on IcyBalls is “The Prairie Yesteryear” site, an excellent site for homesteaders and those interested in rural Americana. You can access their site HERE.
The Crosley IcyBall was popular throughout the 1930’s and on into the early 1940’s until Depression-era programs such as “Rural Electrification Administration” (REA) began bringing electricity to rural America. In 1934, less than 11% of US farms had electricity. (In Germany and France that same year, nearly 90% of farms had electricity.) By 1942, nearly 50% of US farms had electricity, and by 1952 almost all US farms had electricity.
Besides widespread availability of electricity to rural America, there was another reason that caused the Crosley IcyBall to become obsolete. The Crosley Icyball was simply too good: it had no moving parts and required no servicing, and it just did not break down. It was a one-time purchase for most people. Sadly, the Crosley IcyBall became obsolete.
As the IcyBall began to be replaced by more modern electrified refrigerators, many of the 1000’s of Crosley IcyBalls sold in the US became junk and scrap metal. However, some still continue to be found to this day and will periodically show up on auction sites such as E-bay. If you get a chance to buy a working one, BUY IT! For those skilled and daring enough to try, you can also build your own homemade IcyBall. See the menu on the left for DIY Crosley IcyBall instructions.
UPDATE: December 01, 2012: I found a Wikipedia listing for Edward Hallstrom, an Australian inventor who invented an ammonia absorption refrigerator in 1923, several years before the Crosley IcyBall in 1927. Wikipedia says that Hallstrom’s invention was called an IcyBall too. I do not know if this is true or not as Wikipedia is known for erroneous information. I’m doubting that it was called an IcyBall, but I may be wrong. I have included pictures of Hallstrom’s refrigerator on the PHOTOS page for posterity’s sake.