The History of Ice Delivery

When one thinks of the history of ice delivery, thoughts of Almanzo Wilder delivering ice to the saloon in Little House on the Prairie, or images of men with large picks and sheepskin shoulder wraps calling out “ICE” from a horse drawn wagon in the street may be what comes to mind. Those images are quite accurate. The history of ice delivery goes back to the 19th century.

Ice Delivery Started in the 19th Century

In 1805 a man named Frederic Tudor was at a family picnic, enjoying an iced beverage when a joke about being the envy of all the colonists in the West Indies gave him an idea. Thirty years later he was shipping nearly 12,000 tons of ice. He became known as the “Ice King.” With a custom-made ship, straw saw dust, and fruit as insulation, his risky shipping business became a success. People in the Caribbean were enjoying iced beverages in the summer, harvested from northern ponds and lakes in the winter.

How Ice Was Delivered

Ice became a necessity as society became accustomed to fresh fish, meats, dairy and fruit. So, by the beginning of the 20th century, almost every grocer and barkeeper had an “icebox.” These boxes acted as coolers. With insulation such as tin or zinc, the wooden boxes would keep food cold. A drip tray would collect the water as the ice melted. Families began to purchase them as well. The ice delivery business was booming.

An iceman would sell and deliver ice from a wagon or cart, making daily rounds to businesses and homes for iceboxes. As he arrived, he needed to know how much ice each customer wanted that day. Regular customers would keep a sign in the window, called their “ice card.”

The iceman would look at the number at the top of the ice card to know what the customer wanted. From beneath the straw, he would pull out the pounds of ice requested. Using a pick to break large blocks apart, and then grabbing the ice with a set of ice tongs, he would carry it over his sheepskin draped shoulder. The ice blocks would be placed in a box intended for their ice delivery. During the hot summer months, children would wait by the ice wagon for some ice chips as a treat.

The job of an iceman was grueling. The typical day began around 4 a.m. and would end late in the evening, maybe as late as 8 or 9 o’clock. Most worked 7 days a week and all holidays, depending on the season and day of the week.

Ice Delivery in the 20th Century

By the 1920s, the invention and use of the refrigerator was causing declines in the ice business. While the making of “mechanical ice” (ice factories) and the use of motor vehicles had made ice more accessible, electricity was changing the world. Ice delivery companies were forced to either change or give it up completely. Some ice distributors started stocking cold grocery items with their ice, such as milk and eggs. An employee of Southland Ice Company, Joe Thompson, decided to follow in this trend, having a shop that stayed open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. for his customers’ convenience. They could purchase ice and other dairy products. As the ice market became less important to his business, he carried more grocery and convenience items, eventually Thompson renamed his shop Seven-Eleven in 1952.

Ice delivery remains alive and well in Amish communities where the use of an icebox is still common.

The Switch From Residential to Commercial Ice Delivery

The ice harvesting and extensive ice delivery business was pretty much over with the widespread use of electricity, but the commercial ice business did survive. Today, the ice business has a different look and commercial ice delivery is in demand. Ice plants make and distribute clean, clear ice for parties, coolers, pools, ice sculptures and any event where ice is needed. Even with the invention of the ice maker in home freezers, some customers prefer the cleanliness of manufactured ice from a local ice company over the product made in their home freezer.

Here at Emergency Ice, we are grateful for the history of delivered ice. That legacy has brought us to where we are today. If you need high-quality ice delivered to your home or business, contact Emergency Ice today.

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