*If you are interested in Natural Ice Harvesting, be sure to visit Ice Harvesting U.S.A.
|__ First hand accounts of the harvesting of ice are very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain today. Most of those hearty souls who took part in this activity are no longer alive, and the ones that are must attempt to reconstruct often imperfect childhood memories. Besides, ice harvesting in the 1930's and 1940's was somewhat more mechanized than it was in the 19th century. That leaves us with the few articles that were written and published while the industry flourished..
__This article was written in 1875. Eleven years later, in 1886, the industry would reach it's peak with over 25 million tons of ice harvested in the United States alone.
_This article has been transcribed word for word as it appeared in Scribner's Magazine in 1875. A few photos were added to the original 5 drawings to help make the process easier for the reader to understand.
_Settle back in a comfortable chair, then, and take a trip to a "simpler and easier" time. I can't help but wonder how Mr. Forbes would feel if he could sit here today and re-read his words from 127 years ago on this new-fangled gadget called a computer.
Mr. Frederic Tudor
The "Ice King"
photos not from original article
_Ice and frozen snow were known as luxuries as far back as history records, the latter being mostly in use in the East. The mode of gathering it in winter, and transporting it for use in summer, and the method of preserving it in those intensely hot climates, was truly primitive, and frequently involved great labor and cost. In many portions of Asia the snow was gathered in sacks, far up in the mountains, and transported to the principal cities on the backs of mules, there preserved in cisterns sunk in the earth, and packed carefully between layers of straw. This method still prevails in some sections.
But up to the commencement of the present century, in those climates where the temperature never reaches the freezing point, ice was a luxury that few beyond the wealthiest could indulge in. In India, as also among the ancient Greeks and Romans, artificial ice was produced in small quantities, and within the last half century successful experiments in its manufacture have been made both in this country and Europe.
_The natural production, however, of our northern climates, together with the great facility for transportation, has almost entirely superseded the use of this artificial movement. It is astonishing to what an extent an article, once regarded as a simple luxury in non-producing countries, and in the northern latitudes as an article of no computed practical value, has become recognized in the commerce of the world.
One hardly realizes that the frozen lakes and rivers of the North furnish labor for thousands who would otherwise be unemployed during the greater portion of the winter months; that the ice trade employs millions of capital; that in the revenue to the carrying trade of the United States, both foreign and coastwise, it ranks next to cotton and grain, and frequently exceeds the latter; that the universal practical use to which it is applied in the preservation of meats, fruits, and vegetables, has, within the past thirty years, produced an entire revolution in the system of domestic economy, to say nothing of the blessings it has brought to suffering humanity, in our hospitals, and in our pestilence-stricken cities.
_The transportation of ice by sea was not thought of until the commencement of the present century. The world is indebted for the beneficent results that have followed from the introduction of the ice trade, to Frederick Tudor, a wealthy and eccentric citizen of Massachusetts, well known seventy-five years ago for his extensive salt-works at Nahant.
_In 1803 the yellow fever raged through the West India Islands, the towns and cities were decimated, and the officers and crews of the European fleets were almost entirely swept off by the disease. The need of ice was very greatly felt throughout the islands. In the winter of that year, Mr. Tudor cut from a small pond, situated on a plantation of his own in Saugus, some two or three hundred tons of ice, hauled it on teams to Charlestown, loaded a portion of it into the brig " Favorite," and sailed with it to the island of Martinique. The venture was regarded by his friends as a wild and visionary one, and he suffered nearly as much ridicule as his contemporary eccentricity, "Lord Timothy Dexter," did when he shipped the warming-pans; but one of Mr. Tudor's prominent points of character, and one exemplified in nearly every act of his long and useful life, was an utter contempt for other people's opinions; he never asked advice of any one, and always turned his back upon all that was offered. The strength of his purpose was generally measured by the amount of opposition he encountered. We were well acquainted with him, and often, when in one of his pleasant moods, he would delight to rehearse his early experience. There was nothing of fancy or mere speculation that induced him to embark in this experiment. He had made the subject a study, and the results of his theories effectually vindicated their soundness.
_The first experiment proved a failure in a pecuniary point of view, as Mr. Tudor himself predicted, but it satisfied him as to the future, when he should have had time to work out the problems presented by the experiment.
_The English Government was the first to appreciate the advantages likely to accrue to its colonists from the introduction of ice, and ten years after Mr. Tudor's first shipment, or shortly after the close of the war of 1812, he received and accepted overtures that were eminently favorable; the first was the grant of a monopoly of the trade upon conditions that were readily acceded to; the second was the release of certain port dues (then very heavy) to all ships bringing ice.
_The Island of Jamaica was then in the zenith of its wealth and commercial prosperity, and the richest colonial possession of Great Britain. Mr. Tudor established his ice-houses at Kingston, the commercial capital of the island. This was the first prominent and permanent point,although this distinction has been accorded by some to Havana, and up to the time of emancipation the trade was quite'brisk. Mr. Tudor also secured the monopoly of Havana, with liberal arrangements for the introduction of ice in other ports on the Island of Cuba. The Tudor Company still retain the monopoly of Havana and the Island of Jamaica. All other ports in the West Indies are practically open to competition. Of these, the principal are St. Thomas, Martinique, Barbadoes, Trinidad, Demerara (on the main), Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba, Manzanillo. The ice supplied to these ports is shipped exclusively from Boston.
_Next in order after the West India ports comes the introduction of ice into our domestic ports by Mr. Tudor. The first cargo was shipped to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1817. Charleston was then the most important commercial port in the Southern States.
_In 1818 Mr. Tudor established a branch of the trade in Savannah, then, as for years afterward, a rival of Charleston. In 1820 he established ice-houses in New Orleans, which city, thirty years later, became the largest consuming city in the United States, south of Philadelphia.
_It is a singular fact that the bulk of ice consumed was in foreign and Southern domestic ports. This, however, may be accounted for in this way: Before the introduction of Croton in New York, and Cochituate in Boston, the deep wells in both cities answered the double purpose of supplying cool spring water for drink, and as reservoirs for keeping meats, butter, milk, etc., cool in summer. It is not necessary that one should be very old to remember when we did not have ice-chests in our markets, and refrigerators in our hotels and private residences. The dairyman who brought his butter and milk to market, and the farmer and butcher who slaughtered his beef and mutton during the hottest of the summer months, had his little ice-house, or cellar, containing from ten to fifty tons, which answered every purpose. Now there are delivered and consumed in New York City alone, during the winter months, more tons of ice than were cut, shipped, and consumed, in the United States in a twelvemonth thirty years ago.
_In May, 1833, Mr. Tudor, at the request of English and American merchants resident in Calcutta, sent a small cargo of about 200 tons to that port. A Calcutta voyage in those days involved about six months for the passage out. The result, like that of his first shipment to the West Indies, was not a pecuniary success, but it proved that ice brought twenty thousand miles could, with all the attendant waste and losses, successfully compete in prices with that prepared by the natives. The result was the establishment of a trade which has steadily increased in volume and importance, and which enables Boston to hold the key to the rich and extensive commerce between Calcutta and the United States.
_In 1834 Mr. Tudor extended his trade in another direction, and sent a cargo to Rio Janeiro. Up to 1836 Mr. Tudor was the ice king of the world. At this remove of time we can easily figure up results, but words are inadequate when one attempts to do justice to the memory of this wonderful man, whose genius and ability have opened up such blessings to the race. He saw the conception of his brain take form and shape ; he nursed it, and watched over it through trials and obstacles that would have disheartened one less confident in his own resources ; he lived to see it at its full maturity, a giant among men and nations. He had succeeded, but this success did not narrow him, and he was willing, if not gratified, in seeing others spring up to share in and increase the trade he had labored so diligently to build up.
_In 1842 certain intimations were received from parties in London, which induced a shipment of Boston ice to that city, in the bark " Sharon," by the firm of Gage, Hittinger & Co. Mr. Jacob Hittinger; of this firm, is, by the way, at the present writing, the oldest living representative of the ice trade in the country.
_Previous to this the aristocracy and the London clubs had depended for their ice upon small shallow reservoirs or wells, where the water was let in periodically and frozen. These, with the exception of a comparatively large well-shaped reservoir on the summit of Ludgate Hill, constituted all the resources of London in that respect.
_At that date fancy drinks were almost unheard of in the clubs, taverns, and gin palaces of London. Mr. Hittinger conceived the idea of introducing these, to show to what extent ice was used in " the States" for this purpose. He, therefore, secured the services of several bar-keepers, whom he had initiated into the mysteries of mixing juleps, smashes, cocktails, and other drinks known only in Yankeeland. His experience, as he relates it himself, is very amusing:
_"I went out in the steamer, so as to make arrangements for the arrival of the bark and cargo, delivered my letters, talked with parties, and felt perfectly sure that I had struck a vein. In due time the ' Sharon,' having made a good passage, arrived in the Thames. The thing had been talked over so much, that the cargo of Boston ice was as well advertised as it could have been in the columns of the ' Times.' But, after all, it appeared to them a strange fish that no one dared to touch. My feelings were just about the temperature of my ice, and wasting as rapidly. At last, I was introduced to the Chairman or President of the Fishmongers' Association, an association which I was not long in discovering had the merit of wealth, if not of social position. He was sociable, and seemed to comprehend my position if I didn't his. Matters were soon arranged; a magnificent hall or saloon had been secured; I ascertained that my bar-keepers, through constant drill, had attained the correct sleight of hand in mixing the drinks. The hour arrived. The hall was long and brilliantly lighted. After the company was seated, the chairman introduced me and the subject matter of the evening's discussion. Now, thought I, I am all right. At a given signal the well-trained waiters appeared, laden with the different drinks. The effect was gorgeous, and I expected an ovation that no Yankee had ever had. But, alas ! The first sounds that broke the silence were: ' I sayaw, waitaw, a little 'ot wataw, if you please; I prefer it 'alf'n' 'alf.' I made a dead rush for the door, next day settled my bills in London, took the train for Liverpool and the steamer for Boston, and counted up a clear loss of $1,200."
_This was the story of the first cargo of ice sent from the United States to England. Young Lander of Salem, however, saw fit to discredit the statement of Mr. Hittinger in regard to his loss, and, being wealthily connected, had no difficulty in obtaining, the best bankers' letters of introduction, and also others from gentlemen eminent in social life, to parties holding a corresponding position there.
_Thus armed, he chartered a ship to carry one thousand tons at $10 per ton freight, and anticipated her arrival in London by taking passage in a steamer from Boston. His reception was flattering, and the most brilliant inducements and the most sanguine assurances were held out. " Wenham Lake" ice all at once became the talk in London; but, like another bubble that went before, it soon burst. After extravagant outlays, and the almost entire loss of several cargoes, the enterprise was given up, never to be repeated, and England now gets its ice from Norway. And yet to-day Wenham Lake ice is advertised in London. In this connection a story is told by Mr. Thomas Groom, a prominent merchant of Boston, a native of England, who visited London a year or two ago ;
_"In passing through the fish market, I noticed a sign reading thus: ' Norway, London, and American ice for sale.' I asked the fishmonger which he thought was the best.
_The loading of ships at Charlestown is, perhaps, one of the most interesting features connected with the ice trade. Formerly, or in the early days of shipping, ice was loaded on board ships very much in the same manner as common cargo, and it was a tedious process, besides involving a large waste of material. Modern inventions, originated and improved by the large dealers, have made this part of the business comparatively easy. The diagram given below will explain the manner of delivery from the cars to the ship.
_Some forty cars, containing say two hundred tons, are loaded from the houses at Fresh and Spy ponds and taken to Charlestown. As the cars pass down the track from the main road to the wharf, where the ships are waiting, they are separately weighed; then the car is moved to a position opposite the gangway of the ship; a long platform, rigged with iron or steel rails, is placed between the car and the gangway of the ship. Over this platform the ice is slid from the car door to the ship's rail; there it is received on the "gig" C; the tender holds the check lever A; B represents the drum over which the chain runs, holding a gig at each end. As one gig is loaded with a cake of ice to go into the hold, the corresponding gig comes up empty over the rods marked D, which makes the operation almost self-governing. E is the platform for the gig, which, when the ship is loaded, is placed back upon the wharf in readiness for another ship. The average amount of ice loaded on board a ship in one day is three hundred tons, but, upon an emergency, five hundred tons can easily be disposed of.
_Our foreign shipments are now confined to Japan, China, East Indies, South America and the West Indies, with now and then a cargo to the Mediterranean. The bulk of the shipping trade is with Boston and with ports on the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers, supplying all the principal cities south of New York, and frequently the latter city.
_The following statistics will give an approximate idea of the extent of the trade at the present time, and of its increase since 1805. The shipments are confined to Boston:
From 1805 to 1856.............................230,000 tons.
In 1805...........................130 tons.
_The average rate of freight per ton paid ships is $5.
_There are no reliable data at hand from which to determine the exact date of the first shipment from Maine, but it was not till some time after the breaking out of the war.
_In closing this part of the subject the following incidental facts may not be uninteresting. At a low estimate, the annual consumption in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston is:
New York...........1,000,000 tons.
Total, 2,000,000 tons.
The practical cost to consumers, taking a very small average price, would be:
In New York............ $5 to $12 per ton.
_And, reduced to round numbers, the cost of ice to consumers in these four cities is twenty millions of dollars. Add to this amount all that is consumed in the other large cities of the Union, to say nothing about the lesser cities and towns, and one can realize the amount of the ice traffic of the country as reduced to dollars and cents. A large amount of this ice, however, say from one-third to one-half, is wasted in handling and transportation. When progressive science introduces some method whereby this great margin of waste can be reduced, the benefit will be as much to the producer as the consumer.
_The principal points on the Atlantic seaboard where ice is cut are, for New York, Rockland Lake, Hudson River; for Philadelphia, Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers; for Baltimore, the Patapsco and Susquehanna Rivers, for Boston, Fresh Pond, Cambridge; Smith's Pond, and Spy Pond, Arlington, Wenham Lake, Wenham; Sandy Pond, Ayer; Horn Pond, Woburn; Lake Quannapowitt, Wakefield; Haggett's Pond, Andover; Suntang Lake, Lynnfield, and the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers, in Maine. During the year 1870, when the crop failed south of Boston, the amount cut and shipped from Maine was quite large, but recently the trade has fallen off.
_Boston, from its commercial position, as well as its close proximity by rail to all the principal points of production, must be the advantageous port for shipment. An order for a cargo of ice from that port can be filled at a few hours' notice. It is seldom, if ever without the requisite tonnage; and the appointment of the railroads bringing the ice to East Boston and Charlestown are perfect, that from one hundred to five hundred cars can be placed at once.
_But the ice trade is to day in its infancy; every year it is attracting more attention. It must soon outgrow the means of individual enterprise, and powerful corporations must follow. Steamships, with air tight compartments and built for great speed, must take the place of sailing ships, the saving by which, in the one item of waste, would suffice to build such steamers. Again, as the new ports of the East are being opened up to American commerce, the Pacific coast will have to supply the ice for India, China, Japan, etc. Already parties are prospecting for that region, and it would not be surprising to see, before the close of another decade, spacious ice-houses established in Alaska, Oregon, and California.
_Let us now see what modern improvements have effected in reducing the cutting, housing, and shipping of ice to a system. Fresh Pond, in the city of Cambridge, has been selected for the illustrations, for many reasons, principal among which is the fact that here the cutting of ice for commercial purposes first commenced, and that today it and its near neighbor, Spy Pond, represent the standard of pure ice as merchantably quoted.
_A little more than forty years ago, Mr. Tudor employed as his foreman Mr. Nathaniel Wyeth, of Cambridge, a man of remarkable ability. Up to this time (no reliable data are at hand to fix the year) ice was housed in subterranean vaults, generally excavated on the slope of the bank and removed some distance from the shores of the pond. Mr. Wyeth conceived the idea of erecting buildings without cellars and handy to the shore. These buildings were of wood, battened from the base, and were double-walled, the space between the inner and outer being filled with tan or sawdust. These were capable of holding from three to ten thousand tons each.
_The next progressive move was in the direction of cutting. When the entire crop hardly exceeded five thousand tons per annum, the original method of scraping the pond answered well enough, so did the method of "shaving" the ice and sawing it into blocks. The scraper was a rudely constructed machine moved by hand; the shaving off of the porous or snow ice was done with broad axes; the cutting was done by means of a common cross-cut saw, one handle being taken off. One can imagine the laborious work thus entailed.
_Mr. Wyeth at once put his ingenuity to work and produced the tools that are now in use throughout the country, and which have reduced the cost of cutting to a mere nominal figure. Under the old process, one season would not suffice to secure a year's supply. Now, the cutting and housing seldom occupy more than three weeks, and the average daily work by one concern of housing six thousand tons is not considered remarkable.
_It is seldom that clear ice is secured, that is, ice without a fall of snow upon it. With the modem improvements, this coating of snow is not regarded as detrimental. In fact, the thin layer of snow ice is regarded as a preservative of the clear ice.
_As soon as the pond is completely closed the ice, with the atmosphere at a temperature of ten degrees above zero, forms very rapidly. If, after it has attained the thickness of say three or four inches, capable of bearing a man, a fall of two or three inches of snow follows, then the workmen begin to "sink the pond," as it is termed. This is done by cutting holes an inch or two in diameter, and at three or four feet apart, thus admitting the water to the surface and submerging the snow, which forms the snow ice. With a steady temperature of ten degrees above zero for a week or ten days, the ice will have formed to the desirable thickness, say an average thickness of fifteen inches. We say average, because on many ponds- Fresh Pond, for instance, which is fed by warm springs-the freezing differs. The thickness is ascertained by boring holes with a two-inch auger. If, after the ice has formed sufficiently to bear horses, snow falls, then the scraping process begins, and continues with each fall of snow till the ice is thick enough to cut.