The clear facts about ice cubes


March 14, 2007|By Erica Marcus | Erica Marcus,Newsday

I received a comment from a reader who sounded a bit frustrated with this column's choice of subject matter. "I can't wait for the next article on some earth-shattering topic like the history of the ice cube," he wrote.

I always have wondered about the history of the ice cube.

After a bit of poking around on the Internet, I came across Jeff Hendler, an executive at Arctic Glacier Inc., a national ice distributor. Hendler's father, Richard, founded one of the New York area's leading ice manufacturers (now part of Arctic Glacier) and about 25 years ago, he put out a pamphlet titled The History of Ice. (Another good source was the article "Ice, Harvesting and History" on the local-history Web site maintained by Allegany County, N.Y.)

Ice has been used to cool food, drinks and people for millenniums. In ancient India and Egypt, ice was made by storing water in porous ceramic vessels and leaving them out during the cool night.

Before the 20th century, most ice was formed naturally by cold weather and then cut up ("harvested") and stored in insulated "ice houses" for use during the rest of the year.

Ice hit the big time in the early 19th century, courtesy of Frederic Tudor, a Bostonian who became known as the ice king. In 1805, Tudor harvested ice from a local pond and shipped it to Martinique. By the mid-19th century, Tudor was shipping more than 130,000 tons of ice around the world.

Increasingly, average American homes had iceboxes. The icebox was an insulated cabinet that housed a block of ice to cool the rest of its contents. It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that mechanical ice production overtook natural ice harvesting. The first ice-cube-tray patent was granted in 1932 to Guy L. Tinkham.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday.

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