celebrating nature, inspiring good writing
Ooh, ooh, I don't see a refrigerator! But there's a tall box-like thing, made of wood. Let's see what's inside. Ah, good, inside this lower part there's a glass bottle of cold milk. Also, meat, eggs and other food. Open the top door and we see: a big square block of ice!
Your great grandma uses an ICE BOX to keep food cold, and safe from spoiling. She doesn't have a home refrigerator. In 1915 there is no such thing! Instead, all over the United States, nearly every house, apartment, hotel, and restaurant uses an ice box. Everyone depends on ice. Cutting ice, storing ice, and delivering ice is a big, vital business.
If you saw the movie "Frozen," you may remember how it started, with dramatic scenes of men using saws to cut ice, and lifting heavy ice blocks with iron tongs. In the early 1800s, that is how ice was harvested in the U.S. In the 1820s, horse-drawn saws were invented. As the ice business grew, each winter countless thousands of men and horses worked on frozen ponds, lakes, and rivers.
Millions of tons of ice were stored in huge, windowless ice houses. They were insulated to keep melting to a minimum, so ice was available year round. Ice from the United States was even carried by sailing ship as far as India, China, and Australia. Of course, what mattered to most people was resupplying ice in their home ice boxes. Ice is probably brought to your great grandma's street in a horse-drawn wagon. Then an iceman carries a 60 pound block of ice into the kitchen to replace the ice that has mostly melted.
People depend on their ice boxes. But sometimes a warm winter ruins the harvest. Ice companies are desperate. They scramble to get ice from northern, colder places. An ice famine is scary. In the early 1900s, inventors tried to make something more reliable. Their work led to the kind of refrigerator you have in your kitchen today.
When we go back to 2015, you might see an icebox in an antique shop. Maybe it was once in your great grandma's kitchen.
The ice trade around New York; from top: ice houses on the Hudson River; ice barges being towed to New York; barges being unloaded; oceansteamship being supplied; ice being weighed; small customers being sold ice; the "uptown trade" to wealthier customers; an ice cellar being filled; by F. Ray, Harper's Weekly, 30 August 1884 via Wikimedia Commons.
In his book Ice! The Amazing History of the Ice Business, Laurence Pringle discusses northern areas of the East and Midwest that were sources of ice and gives details of ice harvesting and storage by focusing on one lake--Rockland Lake, "the ice box of New York City." And he writes of those vital but sometimes controversial workers who delivered the ice to customers. Laurence Pringle worked closely with experts and relied on primary documents, including archival photographs, postcards, prints, and drawings. For more information on the book, click here.
You may have heard of the French aristocrat La Fayette who gave his money and time to help General George Washington win the American Revolutionary War. Tomorrow Cheryl Harness is going to have a big surprise for you when she tells about La Fayette's good friend.