Edward H Roberts and his lever-release aluminum ice cube tray

Ever wonder where the aluminum ice cube tray came from?

When I was a kid in the ’50s and ’60s, my father, Edward Roberts, was a design engineer at General Electric… first at Erie Works, then at Appliance Park in Louisville where we moved when I was about 3. Obviously, ice cube trays weren’t much on my mind back then, though I do recall them being kind of celebrated in the family.

Well, it turned out that he was the inventor of the ubiquitous lever-operated contraption that was later replaced by the simpler and cheaper plastic models, and the small collection of them that gathered dust in a corner of his basement shop suddenly made sense. Two of his ice cube tray patents turned up in a musty old file, along with GE marketing photos from the early 1950s. I decided that this bit of history needed to be immortalized on the web, which I’m sure he would have found amusing!

These trays from the old family home in Kentucky include a couple produced as mementos with his name, as well as an apparent early prototype with no moving parts.

At the bottom of this page is an early ad from GE, explaining the various features. The full text of patent 2,622,410 is available as a PDF on the US Patent & Trademark office website (and there is another, with diamond-shaped spaces, that was granted patent 2,763,997 four year later). He ended up with quite a portfolio of these, most related to refrigerator cabinetry… though his later claim to fame was the wood-grain tapered door handle that came to define the look of GE fridges through the ’60s and ’70s. Of course, all these were assigned to General Electric, so we never got rich on the proceeds of ice cube tray production, but it is wonderful to document some of his legacy.

Ice Cube Tray marketing photo by GE, early 1950s

My father was an interesting character, and quietly imbued me from early childhood with a sense of quality workmanship and project-oriented design… which was expressed in my obsession with science fairs all through school, and later in the crazy technomadic machines that became a career. He was a sailor, too, and you can see that side of him here.

Edward H. Roberts at podium, sometime in the early 1950s

I found this tattered and delicate paper buried under a mountain of stuff… too fragile to straighten well, but it’s readable:

(I use these two on my boat.)

(I use these two on my boat.)


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4 Responses to Edward H Roberts and his lever-release aluminum ice cube tray

  1. Jeremy Portner says:

    Kudos to you on the remembrance of your father. I have some similar history with my grandfather, though more on the military side of things. He was one of the enlisted men of the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion during WW2, and I recall reading a few excerpts and hearing one or two stories from him growing up of their trip up from Africa into Italy via Sicily.

    His unit having written a collective book of stories from the foxholes, I was lucky enough to get the barest glimpse of what it must have been like to live in his time, stuck in one of the greatest conflicts in recent history as a simple soldier.

    I think it’s these ideas that help us connect with our past generation, something about getting into my mid thirties made me want to understand both his and my father’s past a bit better… And it’s always good to remember where you come from, even if only to give a little respect and praise to those who came before.

    Thanks for the good read, on an eccentric, but extremely interesting topic!

  2. Steve says:

    Wonderful words, Jeremy – thanks! Yes… it is so easy to forget in this Internet age, with everything so instantly Googlable, that our personal histories (and by extension, those of the whole culture) came from those before us who fade so softly into obscurity that we barely even notice until, suddenly, we wonder how we got here. Musty files and ancient curled photos can reveal much. I think glimpses like these should be captured whenever possible, and I’m delighted to hear of the foxhole book… I honestly can’t even imagine what that must have been like. Good to scan/OCR these things and get them online, where they can help illuminate the past and thus keep it part of our context.

    Warm cheers,
    Steve

  3. barbara donnelly says:

    December 2014

    Diddo!!! I absolutely love to read stories like this. Well, at least we know the real story of the inventor, and not just the “corporate end”.
    One day while I was checking out an old mansion, falling apart, I wondered with my camera in hand….who could let something like this go. Then….I discovered, that the owner of that mansion, had invented matches!! Mr. Pusey, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The horror of this story is this…..the corporation that bought the property had signed an agreement, that they would restore and maintain the historic mansion, and they never did! (and were never held accountable)….

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