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The Odd and Uncommon Histories of Commercial Ice

Updated on May 19, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

A modern farmer harvesting ice in 2009 with an ice saw.
A modern farmer harvesting ice in 2009 with an ice saw. | Source

Before Air Conditioning And Bags of Ice

In the beginning years of college, I worked in a small grocery store with a farmer and grocer from The Great Depression Era that had been a produce department staff person and then a manager in the first Kroger grocery store in my city.

The small brick building of that first store still serves as a general store type of storefront on the corner of a commercial block north of The Ohio State University Campus in Clintonville.


Ice And Cold Air

He spoke of having no air conditioning in the early part of the 20th Century and how they'd spread sawdust on the flooring to soak up moisture in the summer months. This led me to wonder about the creation of air conditioning (I'd never had it at home since large trees cooled the house) and even the production of commercial ice.

It is easy to go into a food or beverage store now, walk up to a freezer case and remove a bag of ice for purchase. Some fast food stores sell bags of ice through the drive-thru window as well.

As a child, I'd seen delivery trucks emblazoned with the words Murray City Coal and Ice and Home City Ice on their side panels and often wondered if coal and ice both came from underground. The company in fact extracted coal from the ground and ice from frozen bodies of water. By the late 1920s, ice making machines and ice plants were becoming popular.

Murray City Ice was Purchased by Home City

Murray City OH:
Murray City, OH, USA

get directions

Columbus OH:
Columbus, OH, USA

get directions

Saylor Park OH (formerly Home City in Cincinnati):
Saylor Park

get directions

Natural Ice Production

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Harvesting natural ice.Delivering block ice.
Harvesting natural ice.
Harvesting natural ice. | Source
Delivering block ice.
Delivering block ice. | Source

Natural Ice

Several stories about the "invention" of ice - the harvesting of ice for commercial use exist. It is hard to tell which of them are the most accurate, since ice has been abundant on Earth for centuries - even if the pack ice north of Alaska and in Antarctica is melting. However, ice storage houses have been found in many countries of the world, some dating back several centuries. How did humans get from ice packs to commercial ice?

Frank O'Brien is mentioned on the web as being an assistant historian for the Allegheny County Historical Society, of which Ron Taylor is current President.

Historian Taylor maintains a webpage on Frank O'Brien's research into the history of commercial ice around 1897, ice harvesting, and more commercial ice production.

European Ice Houses

The Eglinton Ice House. Eglinton Castle, Kilwinning, Scotland.
The Eglinton Ice House. Eglinton Castle, Kilwinning, Scotland. | Source

Early American Settlers

Ice houses have been found enough to show that Early American farmers put up or housed ice for the summer from about the later 1600s forward. That used ice saws to saw blocks of ice approximately 2' by 3' in dimensions from winter ponds and creeks on their properties. When the winter became too cold, their saws would not cut the ice.

In 1800 or just before, my father's ancestors immigrated to Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and points west. In eastern Ohio, they owned farms with root cellars that stayed at around 50°F even in August. They could be additionally cooled with ice form the ice house in a screen sort of apparatus, but meat had to be either canned or pickled.

Meanwhile, ice production in Boston MA became successful. Mr. O'Brien's articles how us that in 1806, 130 tons of ice were produced and 50 years later, in 1856, 136,000 tons were harvested for commercial purposes. Some of it was sold to concerns as far away as South America and India.

No records are shown for eastern Ohio, but in the single year's time from 1879 - 1880, Cleveland manufactured (extracted) 129,000+ tons of ice, while Cincinnati produced 206,000 tons. By this time, Boston had produced 381,600 tons for the year. NYC used close to 960,000 tons that year. Ice was big business after the American Civil War.


The Old Ice Box

Ice box. A block of ice sat in the top of the cabinet, cooling foods below.
Ice box. A block of ice sat in the top of the cabinet, cooling foods below. | Source

Ice Machines

A steam-driven ice making machine was patented in 1851 by Dr. John Gorrie, who used it to make ice in Florida.

Its original intent was for making ice for Yellow Fever patients, but it held forth commercial promise. Dr. Gorrie's papers revealed that he may have invented some sort of ice cube trays, but it is certain that he served his patients iced beverages.

Ice cube trays came as standard equipment in refrigerator's freezer compartments by the 1920s.

The machine received a poor reception. Gorrie's financial backer died and the Boston ice business tycoon, Frederic Tudor, ridiculed Gorrie's invention. Tudor wanted to protect his own ice trade, begun in 1806.

In fact, the Gorriw machine was further ridiculed in the press, perhaps at Tudor's urging.

Regardless of politics or prose, Tudor continued to harvest ice from New England and sell it in warmer countries that had little or no ice. He was rich.

Gorrie also invented a process for air conditioning, but never received the patent. He was soon ridiculed to death, so to speak and died in 1855 at age 51. If his air conditioning system had been patented and financed, cooling history would have been changed and the first Kroger store in my town would not have needed sawdust on the its summer floors.

Surprisingly, Albert Einstein also invented a refrigerator.

Old ice house in Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea.
Old ice house in Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea. | Source

© 2011 Patty Inglish MS


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks for your information, Nancy B.!

    • profile image

      Nancy B. 

      8 years ago

      My family owned the Murray City Ice Company in Columbus, Ohio. It was started by my great grandfather, Charles H. Boardman. It was origionally a coal and ice company and the name comes from the coal mine owned by the family in Murray City West Virginia. The company was sold after the death of my grandparents in the 1980's.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Stone covered with earth. That combination makes a cool environment.

    • profile image

      Morgan lynch 

      9 years ago

      What are the old style Korean ice houses made out of ?? Would it be mud, bricks wood??? Thank u anyone ???

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      This one was fun to write, Graham. Thanks for posting.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      9 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Another greatly informative hub. I clicked through to this one whilst reading another. I hope I can become this proficient in the future.

      Voted up.


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      @camcio - In the 1960s, all I got to see were the Murray City trucks driving down the street to the A & P Grocery to deliver bags of ice for sale. Now we have neither the A & P with its Plaid Stamps (? I think) Premiums, or the Murray City trucks. Now the ice comes in semi-trucks or sometimes a smaller van. We DID still have a milk man in the 60s, though.

      My father probably helped harvest the ice for sale on his father's farm and his father surely did, even as a child.

      @Glenn Stok - My mother did have an ice box when she was growing up, too, and learned you don't need an ice pick on a self-defrosting freezer when she married. it was quite a change. But once we had to go get dry ice when the freezer broke. Kind of like old times for her.

      Docmo & fuscia - Thanks so much for commenting!

    • cameciob profile image


      10 years ago

      Patty, I love the way you braided your own memories with the historical facts. I can almost see you as a child spying on the ice truck! But I never hard of pickled meat. I have to google it or fallow your link.

    • fucsia profile image


      10 years ago

      This is very interesting story. I live very much the Hub like this. A pleasurable reading. Thanks!

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      10 years ago from UK

      As usual, you surpass by this comprehensive and fascinating history of commercial ice.So many facts and so many stories. Brilliant!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      10 years ago from Long Island, NY

      My mother used to call the refrigerator an "ice box" because she grew up with one. Maybe it was like the one you have in that picture. We take ice for granted. But it is necessary for our livelihood.

      I found the part about harvesting of ice very interesting. I didn't know about that.

      Great article, I voted it up.

    • K. Burns Darling profile image

      Kristen Burns-Darling 

      10 years ago from Orange County, California

      Very interesting hub! I love little known facts. My great-grandfather lived in Chicago, and during the early part of the last century, worked two jobs to support his family. One of those jobs was delivering ice. My grandmother, (his daughter) used to tell a story of how she remembered him coming home one very cold winter day after delivering ice,and his gloves were so frozen that when my great-grandmother was helping him to get them off, one of the fingers just snapped off. It's funny how something as simple as ice can have so much history.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 

      10 years ago from Canada

      I've been looking around for hubs about refrigeration and freezing and ice. There was an excellent science documentary called ABSOLUTE ZERO about those things, and about the science quest for ever-colder temperatures ("How low can you go?") In olden days people could collect ice that had naturally formed, and distribute it all over the world, avoid having too much of it melt, and made a profit! It's unbelievable. I have fast-forwarded to the relevant part of the documentary if you click here:

      (27:38 to about 31:50)

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      10 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Patty, This is a very interesting hub that I thoroughly enjoyed. The way people lived in previous generations is always fascinating to me. My love of genealogy fits right in to this type of hub. Votes/rated up

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Another nice bunch of comments - Thanks! Hello, hello - I'd seen in an old movie wheere people went un into a mountain where there was ice and often wondered how they got it down.

      $Stina Caxe - Thanks for reaing!

      @Frieda - I'd heard about the ice house from aunts and uncles on the farms, but never as a child realized it housed ice and was not simply an out-back refrigerator for meats, etc.

      Mrs. J.B. - Thank you for the nice comment!

      @Gus - that sounds like fun in the summertime.

      @David9+ - Did you ever play in sawdust as a kid? My father built some things and always had a pile of it - softer than sand.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Awesome hub,Patty! I've often wondered how people were able to acquire ice before the development of modern refrigeration compounds. Also, you answered another question I've had for a long time: The reason for old-fashioned hardware stores having sawdust on their floors.

      I always enjoy your writing!



    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      10 years ago from USA

      Hi Patty - Oh how we pestered the har-working iceman whenever we kids could ambush him and beg for pieces of ice that he chipped when breaking apart those great big blocks to deliver 50 and 100-pounders to folks for their iceboxes.

      Gus :-)))

    • Mrs. J. B. profile image

      Mrs. J. B. 

      10 years ago from Southern California

      This was brilliant.................

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 

      10 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Very interesting. Who knew? I suppose you did! Fascinating. I'm going to share this with my kids. My oldest is a total history buff and this would be right up his alley. Ice boxed were so absolutely gorgeous; love that pic you have in here.

    • sincerely25 profile image


      10 years ago from United States

      Pretty cool hub!

    • Stina Caxe profile image

      Cristina Cakes 

      10 years ago from Virginia

      What great information. I enjoyed all the photos as well!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for this unusual and fascinating story. I never thought about it and would have never known that ice was produced in thos days.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Eureka! I'm glad you all enjoyed this. Wonder what Dr. Gorrie would think of all our inventions and kinds/sizes of ice today?

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      10 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Thank you for this awesome hub, and it's a fun hub, I love this kind of history, the ice box, wow look how life has changed now. You are awesome I must say, rate up love & peace darski

    • zzron profile image


      10 years ago from Houston, TX.

      This was awesome, I love history. It has always been my favorite subject. Great info, Thanks Patty.

    • tedcampbell2792 profile image


      10 years ago from NY

      Fascinating information, very well written!!!


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