The White Frost Refrigerator: unique 100-year-old icebox

white frost refrigerator icebox
A White Frost Refrigerator from 1906. It had 2 revolving shelves and an internal water cooler.

Most iceboxes looked like plain wooden cabinets in the early 1900s. Without electric refrigeration, they were fitted inside with a space for  ice, which had to be topped up regularly to keep food cool and fresh.

Keeping the butter hard, the milk and cream sweet, and the meat from spoiling, is a part of the housewife’s trouble in the summer time.
White Frost ad from Carter’s Hardware, Sonora CA, 1913

The White Frost Refrigerator was the only cylinder-shaped icebox. A block of ice sat in a compartment under the lid and chilled air was vented into the food storage space below.  The makers said their distinctive model was:

  • More hygienic – easy-clean curved enamelled steel, food always in perfect condition
  • More scientific – better design, better insulated, economical with ice, revolving shelves
  • Desirable yet affordable – stylish, special, above-average price payable in installments


white frost refrigerator crystal water cooler
The "Crystal" water cooler looked good on the side of White Frost Refrigerators in the 1920s. It left room inside for 3 shelves.

Excerpts from their ads show what White Frost Refrigerator Co. and their dealers thought buyers wanted. (To read about the manufacturer, designer, patent etc. please scroll down the page.)

…rolled steel, galvanized and beautifully enameled…nothing to swell, warp or shrink…no corners to dig out, no shelter for germs…absolutely wholesome…circulation of air so scientifically directed…there can be no moisture from the ice in the food chamber
Weis & Fisher ad, Rochester NY, 1905

…only sanitary refrigerator on the market, not a splinter of wood, no waste of ice, clean and odorless
Cahn’s ad, Youngstown OH, 1908

…sparkling, cleanly white…harmonizes so well with the modern white kitchens
Trice-O’Neal Furniture Store ad, Florida, 1925

In 1914 this ad targeted the man of the house. An icebox with US government approval, and a loving wife into the bargain. (Red lines added.)

Of course the advertisers wanted to appeal to women, but they also needed to persuade men. An ad in Popular Mechanics showed “Bob” and his wife in icebox-inspired closeness.


  • 47in high
  • 27in diameter
  • Holding up to 110lb. ice
  • Double walls insulated with asbestos or aerofelt,  and maltha (asphalt) with “dead air space”, later models with granulated cork
  • 3 coats of white enamel inside
  • Exterior white with nickel or brass trim, or golden oak finish
  • Easy to move, on wheels
  • White Frost Sanitary Refrigerator an alternative name
  • “Crystal” water cooler attachment allowing for an extra shelf – from 1919

Manufacturers  and inventor

The first White Frosts were made in Jackson, Michigan even before a full patent was granted in 1906. The president of the company making them was Hugh L. Smith, a hardware entrepreneur and director of at least 2 other businesses. He also bought the Boeck Stove Company.

Charles H. Boeck patented various stove designs and other inventions too. His 1906 refrigerator patent describes him as assignor to the Jackson Metal Stamping Co. In the next few years he patented some improvements to the icebox. His 1919 patent for the water cooler attachment used a different company name: White Frost Refrigerator Co. White Frosts were sold through dealers in many different states, and were also available by mail order from Mechanic Street in Jackson. The price in its first few years was about $30, with a $20 end-of-summer bargain in Paterson NJ. By 1924 a store in Painesville OH was selling one at $74, reduced from over $90.

white frost refrigerator patent drawings
Boeck submitted 5 pages of drawings for the original 1906 patent.


Pie birds: how old are these collectibles?

ceramic pie birds
Blackbird pie funnels. Even the yellow one is a classic. Photo by Andy Roberts.

How many pies today are baked with a little ceramic chimney inside that supports the crust and channels away steam so that hot fillings don’t burst out in places where they shouldn’t? Also called a pie funnel, vent, or whistle, they don’t actually have to be birds, though using a little pottery bird with dark feathers and bright yellow beak is a nice reminder of the song about four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. You are as likely to see them in a collector’s cabinet as in a pie dish, but they can be useful. Pastry crust is less likely to end up drooping or soggy when a pie funnel is doing its bit to help.

All the same, they don’t really seem like cookery essentials, and this could help explain why they don’t seem to have been around for much more than a century. I’ve looked in vain for them in Victorian cookbooks and housekeeping manuals from both sides of the Atlantic. Mrs. Beeton’s comprehensive advice from the 1860s covers all sorts of pastry equipment but there’s no sign of a pie funnel. Pie funnels appeared around 1880 along with other not-quite-necessary late 19th century kitchen gadgets. Many similar “chimneys”, “crust supports” etc. were patented over the next couple of decades.

pie funnel nutbrown
Pie funnels like this were well-known in mid-20th century British kitchens. Nutbrown was a brand name for a range of small kitchen items. Photo HomeThingsPast.

Classic blackbird funnels

Clarice Cliff added pie blackbirds to her range of ceramics in the mid-1930s. At least one expert says this was her own original idea, and it was the first British pie bird registered design, but in Australia there was a similar pie blackbird funnel designed by Grace Seccombe a few years earlier.

Nutbrown pie funnels

From the 1930s to the 1970s and later a plain white or yellowish pie funnel was a familiar item in UK homes. The Nutbrown brand did well and its name is stamped on many vintage pie funnels. I am doubtful of claims that there was ever a Nutbrown Pottery. Pastry utensils of all kinds came from a company called Thomas (Thos.) M. Nutbrown Ltd. of Blackpool, England whose range of kitchenware also included many stainless steel things like toast racks, cookie cutters, and can-openers. By the 1980s Nutbrown kitchenware had been absorbed into the Wilkinson Sword group via a company which made scourers and cutlery.

Pie funnels in the USA

pie vent late Victorian
Pie ventilator - drawing for an 1891 US patent granted to Samuel Jenkins of Auburn, Maine.

In the early years of pie funnels they seem to have been more popular in the UK than in the US. There are few American patents in the quarter century after 1880. The first I found was a “pie-ventilator” from 1891 (see picture) and the next was an 1897 “pie-crust support” patent granted in the US to an Englishman. Meanwhile in England dozens of designs were registered, and pie-related businesses liked to distribute simple ceramic funnels with their branding on. The big surge forward with animal and character pie “birds” started in the 1940s, according to the The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink.


By the way, the only name for this kind of thing in the Oxford English Dictionary is pie funnel. Their first date for it is a 1910 entry in a department store catalogue. They don’t mention pie birds.

pie funnel…a funnel-shaped device placed within a pie while it cooks to support the piecrust and to provide a vent for steam.

Bird with pastry on its chest and a beak full of steam. Photo by thecopse.

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals and/or license here: Pie birdspie with bird. Also see more picture info here.