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When did the refrigerator become message central?
January 18, 2009 7:53 AM   Subscribe

What did the refrigerator door become "the place" to hang kids' art, notes etc.?

In movies and TV shows from the past, you never see things on the refrigerator doors until the late 60's. At least that's my perception. When did this really take hold? I grew up end of 60's- through the 70's and we always had stuff hanging on the fridge. Just wondering.
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Magnets. It's a big metallic surface in the center of the home. Magnets don't leave holes or tape-residue.
posted by Iteki at 8:10 AM on January 18, 2009


I presume it has to do with the innovation of the refrigerator magnet, but this is just speculation. There are only so many large blank surfaces that will hold a magnet in the house.

Wikipedia, without citation, claims that the first refrigerator magnet patent was given to William Zimmerman of St. Louis in the early 70s.
posted by ErWenn at 8:10 AM on January 18, 2009


I think you can definitely re-phrase this question as "When was the fridge magnet invented?".

And it looks like ErWenn nailed it. Or rather pinned it up using magnets.

So what did people do before the fridge magnet?
posted by schwa at 8:26 AM on January 18, 2009


Normal magnets?

The moment Mr Refrigerator man decreed they shall be made of metal is probably the moment they became message central. The largest flat metallic surface in most homes, a...um, magnet, for magnets.
posted by fire&wings at 9:18 AM on January 18, 2009


In his book Turn Signals Are The Facial Expressions of Automobiles, Donald Norman devotes a chapter to refrigerators as message centers. However, it's more of a cross-cultural analysis than a historical one. Still, you'd probably find it interesting.
posted by O9scar at 10:10 AM on January 18, 2009


So what did people do before the fridge magnet?

1. Cork boards, calendars, and note pads, hung on the walls as part of a finished piece. My grandparents had a bunch of home-organizer stuff like this, including a special board to hold the shopping list, and another for a calendar with chalkboard and corkboard portions for notes.
2. Kids' work and art went into a box in storage instead of being all over the house. Before the 50s people didn't consider every artifact created by children as worthy of public display.
3. One reason fridge magnets are so common is that they're a marketing giveaway for businesses. People used to get their marketing giveaways in other forms (yardsticks used to be a really common gift from hardware stores; calendars from groceries and banks - an annual staple; checkbook covers from banks; phone message pads and phonebook covers; pens, pencils, and erasers of course...browse a flea market sometime to see what form promotional giveaways took before free fridge magnets).
posted by Miko at 10:24 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


How can someone have gotten a patent for using a magnet?! It's not like Mr. Zimmerman invented any kind of process or device that did anything other than what was already long invented as small handheld magnets -- this seems a lot more like a spoon (not patentable) than a cotton gin or steam engine (obviously, a patentable invention). I wonder if patents were given for pushpins (like those used on corkboards)?
posted by zpousman at 10:58 AM on January 18, 2009


How can someone have gotten a patent for using a magnet?! It's not like Mr. Zimmerman invented any kind of process or device that did anything other than what was already long invented as small handheld magnets -- this seems a lot more like a spoon (not patentable) than a cotton gin or steam engine (obviously, a patentable invention).

My hunch is that the "patentable" idea Zimmerman had was the idea of selling small magnets with the express purpose of these magnets being "use them to put stuff on the fridge."

And as to why you'd do that -- well, the problem with the bulletin boards, corkboards, etc. above is that they're easy to overlook for someone who's half-awake, scattered, distracted, in denial, etc. If you've got all your notices on a corkboard, but you never look at the thing, you're screwed.

But even the most distracted person needs to eat. And a good number of eating scenarios involve fetching something from a refrigerator. So I'm sure someone had the idea, after "forgetting" to look at the corkboard one too many times, to put a notice on the refrigerator as a "backup" for the really important things...and then it was so handy that they used it for more reminders...and presto.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:15 AM on January 18, 2009


I remember getting a (Blessed Virgin Mary) BVM magnet at school in 1st or 2nd grade, so 1961 or 1962, and that being the 1st magnet on the fridge. Mom used a bulletin board for calendar, shopping list, coupons, etc. That's my little data point for you.
posted by theora55 at 11:17 AM on January 18, 2009


well, the problem with the bulletin boards, corkboards, etc. above is that they're easy to overlook for someone who's half-awake, scattered, distracted, in denial, etc. If you've got all your notices on a corkboard, but you never look at the thing, you're screwed.

Also, magnets don't put holes in things.
posted by purpletangerine at 12:16 PM on January 18, 2009


the problem with the bulletin boards, corkboards, etc. above is that they're easy to overlook for someone who's half-awake, scattered, distracted, in denial, etc. If you've got all your notices on a corkboard, but you never look at the thing, you're screwed.

Change "corkboard" to "fridge" - that's not the reason. I find it quite possible to miss the important notices I have on my fridge when I'm sleepy, half-awake, etc - I just tune 'em out. The problem is in the person and the habit of being aware of the place where notices are put - not the notices themselves.

I agree that the magnets became the default because they do less damage to the walls, not that the frdige does a better job than the corkboard. Also, once you've stepped on a stray thumbtack in the kitchen, the tack part is a lot less appealing.

Also, note that large flat fridge surfaces with right angles weren't that common until the 70s. Fridges were smallish until the 60s and even when they got bigger, at first they still had rounded edges and a round front surface - not that great for posting things securely.
posted by Miko at 12:36 PM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks- all great input!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:29 PM on January 18, 2009


The first things I can remember being purposely hung on fridges by magnets were my mom's potholders. They had little magnets in them that let you do this. There is an episode of the old Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman show where Mary is sitting in her kitchen, zombie-like, pitching her potholders at her fridge, and them sticking.

Before that, I had all those plastic magnet letters that would occasionally end-up on the bottom third of the fridge door. That was in the 60's.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:01 PM on January 18, 2009


Sub-Zero in all their wisdom has made non-magnetic metal doors....my default places for sticking stuff up with magnets have become my (required by NYC steel) front and back doors.
posted by brujita at 10:47 PM on January 18, 2009


My fridge is built in, to look exactly like the rest of the kitchen cabinets. No magnetic surface in the kitchen! It's just what I've seen done in Switzerland and Germany. My fridge magnets now live on my filing cabinet and white board.
posted by Goofyy at 9:47 AM on January 19, 2009


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