In 1928, a figure known as the Ice Man could be seen delivering a 25-pound ice block in Houston, Texas. This snapshot reflects a time when the ice trade was a highly profitable industry, primarily during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ice was harvested from natural sources such as ponds and streams and then transported via railroads or ships to various destinations worldwide. An intricate network of ice wagons was responsible for the final distribution of this valuable commodity.
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The roots of this industry can be traced back to 1806 when Frederic Tudor, also known as the Ice King, initiated the ice trade in New England by shipping ice to his affluent clientele in the Caribbean. Over the years, his enterprise expanded to encompass regions like Cuba and the southern United States. Eventually, ice was being shipped to destinations as far-flung as India, Australia, China, and South America.
At the zenith of the ice trade, this sector in the United States employed a staggering 90,000 individuals and relied on the labor of 25,000 horses. The demand for ice experienced a notable upswing during World War I. However, once the war concluded, the ice trade saw a precipitous decline due to the advent of refrigeration cooling systems. By the 1930s, modern refrigerators began to gain prevalence in households, and by the 1950s, they had become nearly ubiquitous in both the United States and Europe. This technological advancement rendered the ice trade largely obsolete.