How the Victorians Kept Their Groceries and Themselves Cool in Summer

We have been experiencing some particularly hot weather this summer, and like many other people I have been counting my blessings for the invention of the air conditioner. However, during a recent electrical storm I lost power and was reminded of just how reliant we are in the modern world on electrical power.

As I sat sweltering in a home built just after the Victorian period of our Pioneer Home Museum, I began to think about the contrasts between our current reliance on electricity and the technologies of the Victorian period.

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Central heating and cooling were virtually unheard of during the late 19th century.  Most homes were heated with small coal or wood stoves located in each room of the home. The difficulty in heating large spaces is why so many homes of that period do not feature the large open floor plans so beloved of architects today. Modern air conditioning had no parallel in the Victorian age. Cooling had to be achieved by opening windows and hoping for a breeze.

Modern refrigeration was simply not available and food cooling was achieved through the ubiquitous ice box where a block of ice in a sealed container cooled as it slowly melted. This necessitated careful monitoring of the block lest it melt too quickly. Often several blocks would need to be purchased weekly.

Electrical lighting is another innovation that today many of us take granted, simply flip a switch and let there be light. Electrical lighting in the home, though invented during the Victorian period, was incredibly rare. Instead, lamps and candles were the rule of the day.

Trimming candle wicks and refilling lamps with kerosene fuel were time-consuming tasks and the level of illumination offered was dim by modern standards.

Though today we may curse when the power goes out, we can be thankful for the incredible convenience electricity offers us. Even so, make sure to keep a few candles handy in a drawer for the next time a downed powerline sends you back involuntarily to a Victorian level of technology.

© Virden Empire-Advance