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May 12, 2020

The Evolution of Commercial Refrigerators — And How Retail Space Solutions Keeps Up With Innovation

Like many commodities today, modern and commercial refrigeration machines are often taken for granted. Store managers rely on them to keep their products cool and fresh. Let's take a walk down memory lane to see how these critical appliances have developed over time and how Retail Space Solutions is evolving with them.

Store managers have a lot on their plates. Their long list of duties and tasks requires them to at times rely completely on their staff, inventory systems and other processes. They also must fully trust the appliances in their stores, including their commercial refrigeration units.

Perhaps, as customers open the refrigerator door and grab a carton of orange juice, or as employees stock lunch meat, we may take these chilling machines for granted. Modern refrigeration systems have come a long way over the years. Like many commodities used today, these critical appliances have developed over time without a great deal of attention to their evolution. Here is a brief historical timeline of how refrigeration units came about and how they’ve become better and better through the years.

18th Century

In the 1700s, William Cullen, a Scottish chemist, developed a prototype of a cooling box. Famous inventors Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley also tested novel ways to cool objects using volatile liquids. These breakthrough experiments and inventions led to advancement in the world of refrigeration.

19th Century

In 1805, American inventor Oliver Evans invented a heavy-duty refrigeration machine. More than seven decades later, in 1876, refrigeration technology became more cutting-edge with the introduction of liquefied gas. As a result, the first consumer refrigerators were born and made available for home purchase.

Also in the 1800s, French engineer Ferdinand Carre developed the first-known machine that produced ice. According to, Carre received a French patent for “an aqueous ammonia absorption system” that could be used to make ice. That invention remained popular until it was replaced just after the turn of the century by refrigeration systems that used liquid vapor compression. Refrigerated boxcars were used as early as the 1840s to transport dairy products cross-country. About 3 decades later ships were equipped with elementary refrigeration units that allowed food to be transported longer distances without rotting or spoiling.

20th Century

In the early 1900s, commercial refrigerators became even more important for many industries, especially meat packing. Those units were massive, weighing between 5 and 200 tons. They also relied on toxic gases for cooling power, which at the time were recognized as the obvious hazards that they are now.

According to Best Refrigeration, “As was discovered in the 1920s, liquefied gases can lead to a number of causalities. This resulted in manufacturers switching to coolant gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons, which soon became the industry standard.” It was later discovered that those chlorofluorocarbons were harmful to the Earth’s ozone layer. That led to the development of hydrocarbons as an alternative, and that coolant remains the standard today.

During the 20th century, commercial refrigeration systems became more lightweight, more affordable and more accessible to businesses like grocery stores and restaurants. Several safety improvements were also made along with replacing the volatile gas used as the primary cooling agent. New features such as digital thermostats, LED lighting, clear display doors and advanced product display systems became more common. These features have improved the customer experience by making products within refrigerators and freezers more apparent and attractive.


Many years of research and development have led to the modern systems found in c-stores, grocers, restaurants and other commercial operations. With rapidly advancing technologies and constant scientific discoveries, refrigeration has evolved exponentially over the past few centuries, and even in more recent times.

At Retail Space Solutions, we prioritize innovation and are always looking to the future as we develop new systems and products. Our SimpliStock™ and SpaceGrid® HiGlide pusher systems are specifically designed for modern coolers and freezers. These advanced display systems are constructed from durable ABS and HIPS plastics and are designed and built to stand up to the challenges presented by cold and damp conditions. They’re also rugged, tested to perform for years and endure frequent use.

As displays are improved by products being kept tidy and visible, the stocking and shopping experiences are improved as well, creating great returns. While refrigeration has industrialized and vastly improved, Retail Space Solutions has kept a close eye on how our innovative products can develop along with it to continue delivering the best solutions to customers.