Invention Of Refrigerator Essay Contest

WIN CASH PRIZES … AND TEACH HISTORY TOO — Catholic school students in grades 5 – 12 are invited to enter our annual essay contest.  The contest is open to all students in Catholic schools – parochial, private and homeschool…. Here are the rules and details… We hope teachers and parents will incorporate this essay contest into their lesson plans and encourage We hope teachers and parents will incorporate this essay contest into their lesson plans and encourage their students to participate.  

There are eight divisions:

  • For Catholic schools:
    • 5th grade Catholic school students
    • 6th grade Catholic school students
    • 7th/8th grade Catholic school students
    • High school Catholic school students
  • For Catholic homeschools:
    • 5th grade Catholic homeschoolers
    • 6th grade Catholic homeschoolers
    • 7th/8th grade Catholic homeschoolers
    • High school Catholic homeschoolers


5th Grade Students:

Choose a Catholic historical character (born before 1950) from North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico). Write about his or her life and work and why he or she was important to the Church and country. Students may choose a person who was born outside of North America, but who did their important work in North America.

6th Grade Students:

Choose a country other than your home country, that you would like to visit. Research that country’s history and write about two places of historical interest that you would like to visit if you traveled there and why.

7th and 8th Grade Students: (Choose one of these topics)

1. Choose a non-North American historical character (from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia or South America) who lived between 300 A. D. and 1600 A.D. and relate how that person influenced the time and place in which they lived.

2. Choose an historical event that occurred between 300 A.D. and 1600 A.D. (This could be a war, a single battle in a war, a plague, the coronation of a king, the passage of a law or decree, an ecumenical council, a revolution, an invention, a birth or death, a marriage, etc. – but the event must be an historically important event). Describe the event, the key players, its outcome and how it changed history.

High School Students: (choose one of these topics)

1. The year 1618 was the beginning of the 30 Years War in Europe. Research this conflict, identify its causes, why it lasted so long and what were its results. Explain why it was such an important war in the history of Europe.

2. The year 1918 was the end of the World War I. Discuss how this war changed Europe. You may concentrate on one aspect of change – such as economics, politics, religion or culture.

3. Show how World War I lead to changes in the culture of the United States in the 1920s.

4. C. S. Lewis wrote: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” Explain this quotation, using examples from history.

5. C. S. Lewis wrote: “History isn’t just the story of bad people doing bad things. It’s quite as much a story of people trying to do good things. But somehow, something goes wrong.” Explain this quotation, using examples from history.

NEW GUIDELINE: Teachers may only submit 5 essays, per division, per school. While we want to have every student continue to participate and enjoy the opportunity to write and learn more about history, we are asking the teachers to select the best 5 essays for submission. We will continue to send a letter thanking every member of the class for participating. For further questions please email:


  • For Catholic schools and students:
    • 5th grade Catholic school – $100 to student and $400 gift certificate for the school student attends
    • 6th grade Catholic school – $100 to student and $400 gift certificate for the school student attends
    • 7th/8th grade Catholic school – $150 to student and $400 gift certificate for the school student attends
    • High school, Catholic school – $200 to student and $400 gift certificate for the school student attends
  • For Catholic homeschools and students:
    • 5th grade Catholic homeschoolers – $100 to student and choice of CTP book for student’s family
    • 6th grade Catholic homeschoolers – $100 to student and choice of CTP book for student’s family
    • 7th/8th grade Catholic homeschoolers – $150 to student and choice of CTP book for student’s family
    • High school, Catholic homeschoolers – $200 to student and choice of CTP book for student’s family
  • For all winners:Winning essays will be published on the CTP website and social media.


  • For the 5/6 divisions, essays should be at least 450 words, but no more than 1,000 words.
  • For the 7/8 divisions, essays should be at least 600 words, but no more than 1,500 words.
  • For the high school divisions, essays should be at least 800 words, but no more than 2,000 words.
  • Essays should be typed, double spaced, 11 pt in Times New Roman font.
  • If essays are e-mailed, they must be in PDF format.


  • Your writing should be in your own words. If you quote another author (either from a book or the internet), you must cite that author in a footnote or an endnote. Essays that are suspected of plagiarism will be disqualified.
  • Essays must include a bibliography or simple list of sources used.
  • Wikipediamay not be used as the primary reference material. Wikipedia is useful for an initial familiarization with a topic, but it is not considered a reliable source in academic circles. A Wikipedia article can be useful in providing reference to books and articles which can be used for further research.

An Entry Form must be filled out and attached to each essay.

Catholic School Entry Form (right-click and Save As to download)

Homeschool Entry Form (right-click and Save As to download)

Please choose from the links above to download your entry form. Download the form to your computer and then fill it out. Save the completed form and then send it by email to


All mailed essays must be postmarked by midnight, November 17, 2017.

All e-mailed essays must be received by midnight, November 17, 2017, EST.


Essays can be mailed via USPO to:

Catholic Textbook Project
Essay Contest
P.O. Box 266
Galena, OH 43021 

Or they may be sent via email, attached in PDF format to:

Each student’s essay must be e-mailed individually and not gathered into one file.

Please contact Katherine at with any of your questions.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was living in a small flat which contained a fridge that hummed very loudly. Very loudly indeed. She found it a bit annoying. Also annoying: the power supply for the room was through a meter she had to keep feeding with coins to maintain a regular supply of electricity, which was prone to running out with little warning. However, she noticed that the fridge’s hum would change slightly when the meter needed feeding. What had started off as an annoying side effect of the fridge’s ability to keep her food cool became a useful guide for the maintenance of her home. She went on to do a whole PhD reflecting on the domestic soundscape: the importance of sounds like toast popping up, the chug of the washing machine, a kettle boiling, taps dripping.

I love this story about my friend’s fridge because it demonstrates something we all do: the sometimes unintended re-use of the various bits and pieces of technology that surround us. How many of you, for example, have magnets on your fridge?

I also love this story because it gives me an excuse to tell the story of how the refrigerator got its hum in the first place.  This story is a classic in the social history of technology. If you have any familiarity with this field you’ll know it. If not, let me introduce you to it because it’s a good story, and one with a neat moral. Because there could have been other fridges, other – quieter – fridges.

In her classic essay ‘How the Refrigerator got its Hum‘ (chapter 15 in this book, or download a PDF here), Ruth Schwartz Cowan traces the early history of domestic fridges. In 1920s USA, there were two types of fridges on the market; electrically powered ones which used a (humming) motorised compressor to work their refrigerants, and gas ones. All mechanical fridges work by controlling the vaporisation and condensation of a liquid called a refrigerant. Most fridges today do this control with a special electric-power pump called a compressor, but there’s also the technique of absorption, which is kicked off by a gas-fulled flame. The fridge’s hum wasn’t inevitable. Once upon a time, that particular bit of our domestic soundscape could have been very different.

Various refrigeration machines were patented throughout the 19th century, and manufactured ice became available throughout the southeaster US by 1890 (natural ice was easier to come by further north, so there was less of a market). Most breweries had large scale refrigeration machines, as did meat packers and Cowan talks of ‘icemen’ carrying manufactured ice for sale through the major cities. Such commercial fridges were big objects though, few were under 5 tones and many weighed anything between 100-200 tons. So it wasn’t until 1914 that the first domestic fridges were developed. This was an electric compressor model, complete with very noisy hum and the wonderful name of ‘Kelvinator’ (Cowan, 1985: 204-6). Throughout the 1920s, more and more domestic fridges were developed, although they remained very much a luxury item, with gas companies going into production of their models from the mid 1920s (Cowan, 1985: 212).

Although the gas fridges were arguably more efficient and without motorised parts did not break down so often – they were even known as ‘the common sense machine’ – the electric ones became the norm. Cowan argues that this was largely down the social and economic power of the electrical companies, especially General Electric, who not only had a lot of weight with domestic appliance salespeople but, as Cowan puts it, could employ ‘outlandish advertising and public relations techniques’. These do really did sound like quite the PR carnival: swashbuckling pirates in storerooms, exhibition trains travelling the country and jazz bands riding floats across small town America. One was presented to Henry Ford in a special radio broadcast in 1931. In 1928, another was send on a submarine voyage to the North Pole with Robert Ripley (as in the ‘Believe it or Not’ Ripley). In 1935, fridges were the star of the first ever commercial Technicolour film. This ran for nearly and hour with Hollywood stars and a romantic comedy script rooted in the need for a complete electric kitchen (Cowan, 1985: 209-10). It’s also worth noting that the various electric companies cooperated here in selling the idea of electric refrigeration, even if they competed on named products (Cowan, 1985: 211). With gas vs. electric fridge, it wasn’t a technical decision as to which won; it was largely social-political-economic. It wasn’t the first tale in the history of technology to be so, and it wasn’t the last either.

In many respects, the history of technology is a history of failed machines; of routes we didn’t take, not the ones we did. There have never been a shortage of new inventions, what ‘shapes us’ is what we choose to pick up on. David Edgerton (2006) puts this very well in his book ‘The Shock of the Old‘ which calls for a focus on thinking about technology we use, rather than new technology:

The history of invention is not the history of a necessary future to which we must adapt or die, but rather of failed futures, and of futures firmly fixed in the past. We do not have a history of invention, but instead histories of the invention of only some of the technologies which were later successful (Edgerton, 2006: 184. Emphasis as original).

Cowan would ascribe to this sort of view on the history of technology too, and as a way of prefacing her tale of the fridge’s hum, refers to the sorts of innovations advertised in 19th and 20th century women’s magazines: technologies we might look back on now as quaint and funny, but were often very good ideas:

What resident of a drought-prone area today would not be grateful for a toilet that does not use water? […] Why do we have popcorn makers and electric can openers but not gas refrigerators or inexpensive central vacuum cleaners? If we can put a man on the moon, why have we been unable to pipe out garbage disposals into our compost heaps? (Cowan, 1985: 202)

And there’s the moral of the story: the possibilities around technology are multiple. They are not limitless, but they aren’t singular either, and they certainly are not linear. There are choices when it comes to the technologies we choose to take on, and choices about how we make use of them, when and if.

Technology is done by people, and can be redone and undone by people too. Stories of how we have made choices in the past (unwittingly or otherwise) about technology help uncover this, as well as point us towards old routes we could return to. This is the great liberating lesson from the social history of technology movement, one that, whether we are thinking about fridges, synbio, geo-engineering, bicycles, a cotton jumper, the internet or anything else, we would all do well to remember.

This entry was posted in technology and tagged history of science, history of technology, technology on by alice.


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