Einstein's Refrigerator - A Forgotten Invention and Green Comeback

An Inventor Working With Patents

Albert Einstein worked as a clerk in a patent office in his earliest career and was well informed about the procedures of invention and patenting. In 1926, he patented his own invention, in addition to formulating and developing theories in physics and winning a Nobel Prize.

After graduating from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and unable to find a teaching position, Einstein found work as an assistant patent examiner in the Swiss Patent Office. This heped groom him for future research in physics, because he reviewed numerous patent applications for electromagnetic devices.

Albert Einstein later invented and patented a refrigerator and several models between 1926 and 1933.

U.S. Patent Number 1,781,541; November 11, 1930 [public domain].
U.S. Patent Number 1,781,541; November 11, 1930 [public domain].

U.S. Patent Number 1,781,541

The Einstein Refrigerator was patented through the United States Patent Office on November 11, 1930; in partnership with Einstein's inventive partner and former student, Mr. Leo Szilard.

The refrigerator was a unit that acted as an absorption refrigerator and had no moving parts. It was very simple and effective. The refrigeration device required only a simplistic heat source for its operation to proceed quickly and smoothly. It did not even need electricity! The heat source could be a small gas burner like that available even in poor villages and the refrigerator was useful in the outdoors as well -- no motors, no plugs. You'd heat up one end of the device and the other end became cold. it was like magic.

This invention was practical in that it 1) provided refrigeration simply and cheaply and 2) provided income that supported Einstein as he researched his more vital projects and theories.

2008 Revival

In 2008, an Oxford University scientist attempted to revive the Einstein Refrigerator as a type of green replacement for electrical units.

Mr. Malcolm McCulloch is an electrical engineer at Oxford. He feels that Szilard's and Einstein's refrigeration design was environmentally friendly as well as useful in developing countries that need cooling appliances while maintaining sustainability.

In the autumn of 2008, McCulloch and a research team completed a prototype that uses pressurized gas to keep food or other items cold. The refrigerator requires a source with which to heat liquids in its design, and McCulloch feels a solar energy system will become even more "green" than the small gas burner Einstein used. The refrigerator will run on sunlight and a little butane.


A scientist at Georgia Tech is also developing a take on Einstein;s refrigerator, one that uses ammonia, water, and butane. This scientist is a mechanical engineer, Andy Delano. He learned that Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard invented not one, but several models of the Einstein Refrigerator between 1926 and 1933, a period of 7 years. Einstein was an inventor, then, for at least 7 years, accumulating 45 patents in all.

Mr. Delano has accrued patents as well form his related work, all of which have been sold to AB Electrolux in Sweden, famous for refrigeration.

Measuring the speed of light using Foucault's rotating mirror method
Measuring the speed of light using Foucault's rotating mirror method

Why Refrigerators?

Einstein and Szilard read newspaper columns about a Berlin family that died when a seal in their refrigerator burst and leaked toxic fumes into their house. A device without moving parts would prevent such a hazard and Einstein and Szilard pursued practical applications for refrigeration in order to make it safer, cheaper, and quick for the individual user; and to provide some income for themselves to support their other work. Einstein was already famous for his Theory of Relativity, and Szilard was already employed as a graduate assistant at the University of Berlin. The additional income furthered their physics research.

NOTE for time travelers and enthusiasts:

A division of NASA, the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, has worked on the  question of breaking the speed of light/time barrier for several years. Research there and in other facilities has thus far shown that the speed of light can increase. 

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Comments 21 comments

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I think inventing is an impulse that fulfills a creative instict in some folks.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Sounds logical to me. Thanks, dahoglund.

Daniel5 profile image

Daniel5 6 years ago

How interesting. I really enjoy reading your articles

samsons1 profile image

samsons1 6 years ago from Tennessee

voted up and useful! thanks, I had never heard this before...

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for your wonderfully written hub. Amazing that after all these years an invention of his is being looked at.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

I appreciate all of you reading and commenting. It is a happy event that Einstein's work can be used in the 21st century for sustainability and to help developing countries and the poor. His work has helped take us to space, examine the barrier of light and time, and to even survive better on our own planet.

I hope Einstein refrigerators will be available in USA.


Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 6 years ago from Ontario/Canada

One smart cookie, that Mr. Einstein...

You always find the most amazing things to write about. If I would have heard about AE's type of refrigeration I might not have flunked Thermodynamics in College...

as always a fabulous hub

hope you're okey dokey

regards Zsuzsy

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

This is intriguing to say the least. I cannot get enough of how stuff works. Does it seem impossible to you to get cold out of heating something? I can never quite get my head around that one. Propane refrigerators are quite popular in rv's and boats and other places where the electrical supply is unreliable. I still can't figure em out. But I know they work.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

ZBee! - Think how far ahead of the curve you were than folks who could not even take the course. lol. I'm doing well; hope you are too.

SteveoMc - Amazing, is it not? If it were to go on the market here, I would purchase one.

G L Strout profile image

G L Strout 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

How intresting! I wonder how many years before we catch up to Einstein. Thank you for a fascinating article.

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

The refrigerant principle is when something expands (enclosed gas) it releases heat (cools). Thanks to physics, the two principals used are compression produces heat, expansion produces cold. A heat source expands the enclosed gas. It passed through an orifice, where there is a pressure reduction and heat is released (cooling). Patty another informative great hub. I was not aware Einstein patented a refrigerator...

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

This is amazing!! It's funny how so many green solutions are out there- and HAVE been out there for years!!

saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

This should have been put to use and marketed many years ago, however because it uses no electrical power, per chance do you think perhaps the government would quickly abrupt it's success. After all they only want patents that generate them incomes. I hope someone does successfully revive it. Einstein like many were way ahead of their time.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

McCulloch may be the one to do it, from Oxford. The other newer prototype patent was purchased by a refrigeration company, which may bury it.

Thanks for comments.

World-Traveler profile image

World-Traveler 6 years ago from USA

Your story on Eintein goes right along with a book I am reading now on the development of radar. Incredible eventions both that of Einstein and others.

Daniel J. Neumann profile image

Daniel J. Neumann 6 years ago from Harrisburg, Pa

This could be great if the power ever goes out. I'll be looking for this product on the shelves!

Wolf 6 years ago

I remember working out the Einstein refrigerator as a homework assignment for Physics class, it's remarkably efficient. When do we see them in the stores?

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

I'll contact McCulloch and ask!

Systememperor profile image

Systememperor 6 years ago from UK

Hi, Patty I think you are a proffesional writer. I hear about you somewhere. And I can judge that you are a good one. You have a lot of followers as well. Just one question: "How to write better?" You can look at what I wrote a commment if you will. What I am talking about is not about grammar, but content, style, etc. I must doing something wrong, because nobody knows...pls, if you have time, can you give me some advice? Many thanks.

thequill profile image

thequill 6 years ago from United Kingdom

Very interesting indeed.

stars439 profile image

stars439 5 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

What a shame we don't have one. God Bless You .

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