In early America, keeping food cold was a challenge. Ice was a big business. In many areas, ice was harvested from ponds and then stored in sawdust insulation to last into the summer months. With the advent of the railroad, insulated box cars hauled ice to southern states to keep foods cold in markets and restaurants.
In the early 1800’s iceboxes were developed for home use. These early iceboxes were simply chests with a compartment for food and another for ice. To keep the food cold, the ice had to be replaced as it melted.
If you lived in the right neighborhood, the ice wagon would come through selling ice. You purchased what you needed to keep your icebox cold. If you weren’t home and your icebox was on the porch, the iceman would fill it for you.
In the 1840’s, compression methods for making ice were developed making household appliances with their own ice-making capacities practical. Eventually, new refrigerated ice boxes found their way into homes.
As these new iceboxes became more widely used, recipes were developed that required refrigeration. In the 1920’s, recipes for icebox cakes began appearing in cookbooks and national publications. These icebox cakes evolved into icebox cookies and into today’s refrigerator cookie recipes.
Historical notes compiled with the assistance of Greg Patent’s, Baking in America.