To see the results of our 2nd Forensic Genealogy Survey, click here!
Quiz #71 - August 6, 2006, 2006
1. What product is this man selling?
2. Why was it so popular?
3. Why did it become obsolete?
Thanks to Delores Martin for suggesting this quiz.
1. Ice (Duh)
2. Ice allowed people to keep their food fresh.
3. Electric refrigerators eliminated the need to use large blocks of ice.
There are many stories about just how ice became such a popular commodity during
the 1800s and early 1900s.  According to Carol Jordan in "
How the Humble Ice Cube
Made Business History:

"During the economic depression that followed the Civil War, ship’s captains in Maine
had a hard time finding enough cargo to fill their ships. To compensate for the lack of
cargo the ship’s crew substituted large blocks of Maine ice to act as ballast. The ice
was covered with sawdust to help slow the melting process. This need for ballast
created a new market for ice."

In his book, the Frozen Water Trade, Gavin Weightman
relates another possible beginning for the ice industry. He
recounts that the ice trade was the brain-child of a 22-year-
old Bostonian named Frederick Tudor, who in 1805 had a
moment of inspiration while eating ice cream. The first
square-rigged sailing vessel to carry a cargo of ice left
Boston on February 10, 1806. The departure was reported
in the Boston Gazette: “No joke. A vessel with a cargo of
80 tons of Ice has cleared out from this port for
Martinique. We hope this will not prove to be a slippery
speculation.” Unfortunately it was. Tudor had not
anticipated the two largest inhibitions to his success: an
insulated place to store the ice was yet to be built on the
island and the islanders hadn’t a clue what to do with it.
Still, Tudor persevered, and died at the age of 80 "inevitably
and unavoidably rich".

The Popularity of Kennebec Ice

Before 1860 most ice was being cut in the Hudson River, but a peculiarly warm winter
that year sent ice cutters north to find frozen rivers and lakes. That was the beginning
of the ice business in Maine. Large scale cutting was done in several rivers, but the
Kennebec saw the most production. Maine had plenty of rivers and lakes along with the
winters to freeze them, a regional labor force to cut the ice, plenty of sawmills to
supply sawdust to keep the ice from melting, and deep water for the ships to haul it
away to other parts of the world.

At the height of the "ice rush" there were sixty ice companies along the Kennebec.    
Ice cut in Maine was shipped to southern New England, the southern United States,
Cuba, South America, India, China and Japan. Promoted by some dealers as a superior
ice, some consumers believed it to have qualities, such as purity and healthfulness, that
other ice did not.

How Ice Was Harvested

To begin, snow was scraped off the ice, then icemen walked with gougers tracing a
line with a narrow plow. Following this, horsedrawn groovers cut a deeper, narrow
furrow. Another group of men made gouge cuts at a right angle to the first. Then
sawyers set in saws, similar to a very large hand saw about 5 feet long with large teeth
and a handle gripped with both hands, and cut the checkerboard pattern. A channel was
created by sawed off "cakes" which were split off with chesels and floated to the ice
Once the blocks were at the ice house end
of the channel they were pushed onto the
elevator, known as feeding the chain, that
pulled them to the top of the ice house.
The elevator looked like an escalator, pulled
by a chain, that hauled blocks of ice
continuously. On the way up they were
planed to clean and make them a uniform
size. At the top they were shuttled around
and packed.
In the summer the reverse was done, except the elevator was not used. Shipping out
was done by "dump crews" that slid the ice on wooden runs. The blocks or cakes (22"
x 32") were again planed for stowing in the hold of a vessel.

The men who worked for the ice companies in the late 19th century were paid $1.50 to
$2.00 a day. There were many different jobs and pay varied according to the job, from
foremen at 2 dollars a day to the boy who scooped the horse droppings of the ice at 25
cents a day. His job paid the least, but was probably the most appreciated by elegant
South Carolina and Cuban ladies when swirling the ice in their cocktails.
Icemen worked a 10-hour day, six
days a week. Many stayed at boarding
houses and private homes where they
paid 50 cents for three meals and a
night's lodging. Loggers often left the
woods after a winter's cutting to work
for an ice company. Other cutters
were recruited from cities and local
towns. Among the more important
gear, which included wool clothing,
were the traction cleats worn on
boots. After the snow was scraped off the ice, its surface was slick. Once the ice was
cut to form a channel, working along the channel's edge made solid footing a high

The John Hancock, or Sagadahoc ice
house (right) was located near
Bowdoinham's Hill farm on the
Kennebec. Built about 1880, the house
held about 50,000 tons. The Richmond
Bee of Oct. 18, 1898 says, "the John
Hancock Company succeeded in
getting out 400 tons of ice last Saturday
from the Sagadahoc houses."

By 1886, Kennebec ice production
Cool Facts
4-inch thick ice will usually support a horse

5-inch thick ice is generally safe for
a team of horses and a loaded
wagon of 2 tons

18-inch thick ice will support a
railway train
The Chronology of the Ice Industry
In 1806, Frederic Tudor shipped natural ice from Boston Harbor, Massachusetts to the
Caribbean Island of Martinique.

In 1816, Frederic Tudor had the first icehouse in Havana, Cuba built. The icehouse held
over 150 tons of ice.

In 1840, the icebox was invented for use inside the home. Shortly after that, New York
City saw the establishment of regular delivery routes for natural ice.

In the 1870's the USA saw the first ice plants begin producing artificial ice.

In 1911, General Electric made the first mechanical ice box

It wasn't until the early 1930s that the usefulness of the "electric ice box" was realized
when newly discovered Freon introduced as the refrigerant. Previous to Freon, other
gases were inconvenient to use and sometimes even deadly if inhaled.
Ice Boxes and Tools
Ice Picks
Ice companies used to give them away to customers in hopes that customer would
purchase ice from the company again. Metal ice picks sometimes were equipped with
bottle openers.
Ice Tongs
Tongs came in different shapes and weights, depending on what they were used for.
Platform tongs were used in the icehouse, lightweight tongs were used by the ice
delivery man, and camp tongs that the homeowner usually used. Homeowners acquired
their tongs from the Ice Company as a give away or for minimal cost.
Ice Shavers & Scrapers
An ice scrapers was used to “ shave” ice and was an alternative to using large chips of
ice from the block. Ice cubes, as we know them today, were non-existent. Shaved ice
was used in drinks, desserts and in preparing foods.
Ice Saws
Although ice saws may look similar to each other, its the manufacturer's mark that
really sets them apart. In the early 1990's, marked saws were easy to find and relatively
cheap compared to today's prices when or if found on sale.
Ice Harvesting
Breaking Bars were the ice harvesting tools that were lost the most during the harvest.
Being heavy and with no handle to grasp, many Breaking bars were dropped into the
ponds and lakes never to be retrieved.
Ice Boxes
Ice Cards
Visible from the street, the Iceman would know the amount of ice desired by the
household based on the Ice card in the front window. Companies had their own color
schemes. Most ice cards display pounds of ice desired but some carried cents.
Ice Poem
Submitted by Eva Royal

Back in the late 1800’s refrigerators were not around,
Because there was no electricity in town.
People kept their food in an icebox to keep it cold—
A wood cabinet that held ice to prevent mold.

Every week or so, they would buy a big hunk of ice,
From the iceman in his horse and wagon at a good price.
Long ago, there was a large meadow/wetland here,
A brook ran through it—tinkling water you could hear.

A man named Jacob Turner enlarged a dam on the brook,
To make an ice pond and fatten his checkbook.
The pond was shallow (1-2 feet)
So it easily formed a thick ice sheet.

Men used big saws to cut blocks of ice so cold,
And put them in a huge ice house to hold.
Packed in sawdust they stayed,
Then in the summer months, the big blocks they made,
Were sold so folks could make lemonade.

A huge wooden ice house stood right here,
Filled with 4,500 tons of ice each year.
But, in the early 1900’s electric refrigerators were in,
People no longer needed ice delivered-business was thin.

Turner stopped cutting ice
and the ice house sat empty—not very nice.
Until it supposedly burned down in a big blaze,
There is no evidence left of the olden days.
The Good Old Days
I remember the ice man.  When I was a child on Phillip Street in the Irish Channel [of
New Orleans], the ice man came around, and sold blocks of ice for the icebox.  The
electrical refrigerators were developed, his job was obsolete.  Once of the chores
associated with an icebox, was emptying the pan underneath it.
 Maureen O'Connor
The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Starring Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, River Phoenix
An eccentric and dogmatic inventor sells his house and takes his
family to Central America to build an ice factory in the middle of the
jungle. Conflicts with his family, a local preacher and with nature are
only small obstacles to his obsession. Based upon a Paul Theroux
Congratulations to Our Winners!

Dale Niesen                Rick Mackinney
Jim Kiser                Debbie Sterbinsky
Ron Hughes                Marilyn Hamill
Mary Fraser                Kelly Fetherlin
Neil Ferguson                Marty Guidry
Betsy Scott                Glen Grant
Phyllis Barattia                Arnold Chamove
Susan Hogan                David Lepitre
Eva Royal                Allie Guidry
Tonya Dillon                Frank Nollette
Marilyn Senn           Maureen O'Connor
Elizabeth Mackie                Michael Pfister
Stan Read
If you enjoy our quizzes, don't forget to order our books!
If you have a picture you'd like us to feature a picture in a future quiz, please
email it to us at If we use it, you will receive a free analysis of
your picture. You will also receive a free
Forensic Genealogy CD or a 10%
discount towards the purchase of the
Forensic Genealogy book.
Quiz #71 Results
topped the 1 million ton mark and it remained there for a decade. But it all ended
quickly. Monopolization, a characteristic from its beginnings as an industry, saw the
smaller companies bought up and eventually owned by the Knickerbocker Company.
The development of modern refrigeration that brought an end to harvesting natural ice.
The last load of ice was shipped from the Chelsea Ice House in 1919.
Ice Scales

These were used at the icehouse and also hung on every
ice wagon so the iceman could weigh ice as he made his
rounds. The test of a good iceman was that when asked,
he would chop off a block of ice from the main 300 lb
block and when weighed, the small block would be
within a lb or two of the requested weight.