I went into the kitchen to grab something from the fridge. It was late evening and I made my way through the darkness. Then I opened the fridge door and released the light.
I wondered, at that moment, when it was that the light got into the fridge. Which was the very first fridge to provide automatic illumination? So I did a little noodling on the internet, and came up with nothing, except that Frigidaire seemed to be a major innovator in household electrical goods throughout the 1950s and 1960s. I guessed that was probably about the right time. So I put the question to Frigidaire on Twitter:
Anna got back to me quickly telling me that Gibson was the first to include a light that automatically switched off when the door was closed. But no date. Nevertheless, with that information, I could formulate a better search engine query: “Gibson automatic refrigerator light”. The surprising answer is 1931!
What this tells me, is that user-centered design goes back at least to the first half of the 20th century. Adding an automatic light is all about user experience. It isn’t technological innovation, like using a safer refrigerant or improving the door seals. Those are to do with the better functioning of the machine. Putting a light in there is about making the use of the machine more pleasurable.
But I still don’t know which fridge was the first to have any sort of light in it. The first domestic fridge dates back to 1913, which means it wasn’t long before someone thought it advantageous to have a light in it. Both for the user and, no doubt, for the enterprise.