His “Cool” Invention Forever Changed American Homes

dr thomas elkins sitting down
Briona Lamback
November 11, 2022

Back in the day, keeping perishable foods for more than a few days just wasn’t a thing. Families would keep food cold by surrounding it with large ice blocks in a cooler-like container – or “ice box” – but this usually didn’t last long. 

Thomas Elkins, a brilliant inventor, realized there was a better way.

Elkins patented an apparatus to preserve foods for an extended period, using chilled metal coils inside an insulated container. Food stayed fresh WAY longer.

But Elkins, who was also an abolitionist, knew his invention meant something even more significant for our people.

His patented technology was critical for our community. Elkins was a part of committees across the North established to protect self-liberated Black folks from re-enslavement. His design directly aided in helping feed many of our people while they fought to keep their freedom.

Elkins’ Vigilance Committee housed freed Black folks, often providing them with legal assistance, shelter, clothing, and, most importantly, food. He even helped support the work of the Underground Railroad.

Elkin’s innovation was about more than his inventions. It was about liberating our people using his skills and talents. With his critical contribution to Black lives in the 1800s and today, his legacy can’t be ignored. We think that’s pretty “cool!”

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