Updated: Jul 5, 2022
You’ll often hear me rant about how lousy new products are. Sometimes we get the opportunity to examine the flip-side of the issue.
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Andrea and I are filling the small cracks in our busy work schedules with a major cleaning & reorganizing project– making our long-neglected basement more usable. The previous owner was apparently a frequent entertainer, for he had constructed a full bar right in the middle of the maybe six hundred square foot space. Operating an actual bar requires refrigeration, and along with a bunch of half-empty booze bottles, the owner had left behind a beast– a Frigidaire from the 1950’s.
We had long known that this day would eventually come. I had gutted out the bar and the wall behind it and installed a new wall that serves as a backdrop for my wine racks. The fridge wasn’t in the way, for it was in a far corner, well away from everything. But it was there, an unattractive, (apparently) dead thing that just had to go. We would put it outside, we agreed, out of our neighbors' sight until we could hire someone to haul it away. We cleared a pathway and I positioned my dolly. Andrea left for work, but my neighbor was on standby in case I needed more muscle getting it up the stairs. And then, just as I was a about to show this antique appliance its first light of day in perhaps seventy years, I had a sudden inspiration–
What would happen if I plugged it in?
This 1952 Frigidaire immediately hummed to life. Surely it couldn’t actually cool, I figured… if nothing else, the refrigerant would likely have leaked out long ago. But out of deference to its age and its demonstration of at least a willingness to perform as designed, I rigged up the instant-read thermometer that I use for smoking briskets. Twenty minutes later, the interior was holding between 23ºF and 25ºF. It ran quietly, with no rattles or anything. It sounded proficient and reassuringly reliable. I have no idea why it would still work, except of course that it must be very well-made. Likewise, I can’t imagine why it was set at such a low temperature… all I knew was that we suddenly had a new freezer that we intend to use.
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A plaque on the refrigerator’s door reads, “MADE ONLY BY GENERAL MOTORS.” GM certainly made sturdy cars in the 1950’s, and I doubt that they would put their name on a refrigerator that was anything but top quality. So naturally I started googling. Frigidaire was established in 1918, and one of GM’s co-founders was an early and substantial investor… substantial enough for GM to swallow the company whole and make it a subsidiary. (GM sold the company in 1979, and it changed hands again in 1986, when it was acquired by Electrolux.)
So how much is this sucker worth? Consumer Reports lists a new 2022 Frigidaire as a “best buy” for $600. According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, that would be about $56 in 1952, my best estimate of my new/old fridge’s birth year. And although I couldn’t find its exact retail price, similar units in 1952 sold for around $300. So yes, manufactured products have gotten less expensive over the decades. However, there doesn’t appear to be any plastic parts on the ‘52… only solid metal. Everything about it appears to be built to last (which, apparently, it has) and to be readily serviceable if necessary.
Perhaps the ultimate arbiter of my new/old fridge’s value is the free market– eBay currently lists a few 1950’s GM-made Frigidaires for between $4000 and $8000, and there appears to be a burgeoning market for restored vintage appliances, as with old cars.
Needless to say, I’m very glad I plugged this thing in before I threw it away. I will be reporting back after a few months of use.