Maggie Koerth-Baker writes in BoingBoing:
“How the Refrigerator Got its Hum” is an article written by science historian Ruth Schwartz Cowan [pictured here]. It was published in 1985, in a book called The Social Shaping of Technology. The article traces the development of the refrigerator and the story of why we use electricity, rather than natural gas, to cool our food today. I couldn’t fit it into my NYT column, but it’s absolutely fascinating and well worth the read. The key point of Cowan’s article: Our world is full of “failed machines”, technologies that worked just fine, but that we don’t use today….
Cowan’s refrigerator hum article is online: “How the Refrigerator Got Its Hum“. Among its many gems:
The case of thc gas refrigerator appears, in many particulars, to be structurally similar to thc cases of many ather aborted or abandoned devices intended for the household…. The central vacuum cleaner, which technical experts preferred, quickly lost ground to its noisier and more curnbersome portable competitor, in part because of the marketing techniques pioneered by door-to-door and store-demonstration salesmen employed by such firms as Hoovcr and Apex.