The History of Ice

History of Ice and the IPIA

1000 B.C.

A means of Preserving Food: The Chinese cut and stored ice as a means of preserving food.

500 B.C.

Earthenware Pots filled with water: Egyptians and Indians made ice on cold night by setting out shallow earthenware pots filled with water.

18th Century

Ice From Ponds: 18th Century- Farmers began to use and sell ice from their ponds. Ice was consumed by only the wealthy who could afford their own ice houses or by people with their own ponds. In the New England states, the demand for ice toward the end of the 18th century began to increase.


Refrigerated Ice Box was Invented: The Refrigerated Ice Box was invented by Thomas Moore.


Beginning of the Natural Ice Trade: Frederick Tudor (aka Ice King) born in 1783-1864, known as the founder of the “Natural Ice Trade”. Tudor came from a wealthy family and instead of following in his brothers footsteps of going to Harvard, he worked in Boston Harbor loading wooden hulled ships. He had the idea of shipping frozen water by ship.


An Ice Depot in Havana: Tudor built a functioning ice depot in Havana which could hold 150 tons of ice. 1816- During this time, Tudor began shipping ice to Southern United States including Charleston, South Carolina, Savannah, Georgia and New Orleans.


The Unsafe Process of Ice Harvesting: The whole process of ice harvesting was incredibly unsafe. Sliding 300lb- 400lb blocks of ice could crush bones and break limbs. Numb hands, frigid waters and sharp tools made the process dangerous along with drowning men and horses. Only 1/10 of ice harvested made it to sale.


A more efficient way To Harvest Ice: Nathaniel Wyeth worked with Tudor to develop a more efficient way to harvest ice. Wyeth devised a new form of horse pulling ice plow that scored the ice into large grids which would triple the amount of ice harvested.


Expanding Ice Trade to the World: Ice trade began to expand in New England with new trade routes being established around the world. Ice was being exported from the United States to Rio de Janeiro, Sydney Australia and Asia and as far as Calcutta India. Empty ships would be loaded with sugar and fruit on their return to the United States.


John Gorrie, an early ice innovator, was a physician and inventor, living in Apalachicola, Florida in the early 1800’s. Gorrie’s concern for patients suffering from yellow fever motivated him to, “invent a method for cooling their rooms,” according to experts at the John Gorrie Museum State Park. He invented a machine that made ice, and in 1851 he finally, received the first U.S. patent for mechanical refrigeration. Today, he is thought of as “the father of refrigeration and air conditioning.


From Exports to U.S. Expansions: The ice industry shifted from exports to expansion within the United States. Wooden Hulled ships carried fish, butter and eggs alongside ice to other countries. The ice allowed other perishable industries to expand and grow. Ships were important in the early years of the trade for exports since the railroad networks were non-existent.


Continued Ice Trade Expansion: The ice industry continued to expand within the United States, with 2 million tons of ice being stored in warehouses throughout the country.


Ice Industry enables consumption of “New” products: The ice industry enabled the consumption of a wide range of “new” products. Chilled drinks, ice cream and widespread use of medicines to be used throughout the US and the world.


Networking of railroads helped grow the industry: Improved networking of railroads helped grow the industry across the country to the West. A special railroad car and loading system was designed and built to transport produce.


The changing Ice industry in America: The ice industry in America was changing. Cities like New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia saw their populations exploded with immigrants during the years of 1850-1890 driving up the demand for ice.


Enormous demand and increasing production: Due to the enormous demand for ice, production of artificial ice slowly began to grow. Despite this emerging competition, natural ice remained vital and the huge demand, driven by the rising living standards, drove the natural ice trade to continue to expand.


The Hudson River ice harvest failed: This created another ice famine, leaving people scrambling for ice. The following year, the summer was cool and there was a decreased demand for ice which had a huge impact on the business and many businessmen were ruined.


Decline in the Natural ice trade: During these years a decline in the natural ice trade due to the ice famine and the investment in new technologies.


Southland Ice Company started selling ice along with staples such as eggs, bread and milk in 16 storefronts in Dallas, TX


World War 1 & II helped to boost the natural ice trade: The government worked to promote the use of natural ice to relieve the burden of the shortage of ammonia and coal used in the production of artificial ice. After the war, the natural ice industry collapsed into insignificance and the industry turned to artificial ice and mechanical cooling systems.

As the American society grew more accustomed to fresh meats, milk, fruit and produce, the ice industry expanded into one of the most powerful industries in the nation. At turn of the 20th century, nearly every family, grocer and barkeeper in America had an Ice Box with people posting signs in their windows letting the ice man know how much should be delivered.

Ice revolutionized the way Americans ate and drank. A dependable ice supply made it possible to deliver fresh meats, seafood, dairy and produce to distant markets and keep it safe from spoilage in home ice boxes. Fruit growers and packers capable of shipping refrigerated products worldwide became huge multinational corporations.

Home delivery continued for a long time, in the 1920’s apartment buildings were still being constructed with ice doors opening into the kitchen.


Henry Vogt Machine Co built the first commercial automatic sized ice machine, the Tube-Ice Machine. Prior to this commercial ice was in block form.


Some in the industry recount a long-standing rumor that during World War I, while many husbands were off at war, wives became perhaps too friendly with the accommodating ice man. They say the tremendous success of the home refrigerator was spurred by returning service men anxious to replace the icebox, and thus the ice man who delivered it.


Leer Manufacturing introduced the first ice merchandiser to store packaged ice at retail locations.


Charlie Lamka, an ice company operator from Amarillo, TX, invented and marketed a volumetric packaging machine that revolutionized the industry making the change from ice packed in cumbersome paper bags to slick and colorful plastic (poly) bags. Plastic bags increased production significantly and were much easier to store and deliver. There was no going back to paper bags.


Coin Operated Vending machines (S&S Vending and KG Brown) were introduced and grew in popularity for two decades to service retail locations.


IIRF (Ice Industry Research Foundation) was formed by a group of Icemen. This grant based foundation’s mission was to research new equipment and technology appropriate to the ice industry.


Ice plants were introduced to totally automatic packaging rooms and operations from filling the bags, closing the bags, baling the bags, palletizing the bags, stretch wrapping the filled pallets and transferring them onto a roller conveyor system into the freezer storage all without anyone handling the ice or bags.


Robotics introduced to the industry and expanding in many ice plants. Ice safety and plant sanitation efforts and awareness increase significantly. Route management and software systems technology and computer hand-held systems technology dramatically improves and becomes wide-spread in the industry to improve efficiencies.