Most of us today when we think of snow and ice we think of fun things like ice skating, sledding, skiing and a variety of other different winter related activities. However, it wasn't really all that long ago that ice was very important and was considered an agricultural product that was gathered up in the form of ice harvesting used for domestic and commercial refrigeration. This ice harvesting took place during the months of January and February.
Even back in the day before commercial refrigeration and domestic refrigeration existed as we know it, ice was used for drinks, making ice cream and keeping food from going bad. Even some of the founding fathers of the United States such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had their own ice houses.
Ice during the 18th century though was normally limited just to the wealthy because it was a difficult and expensive thing to do and to keep the ice since it was an expensive venture to build an ice house. However, things began to change in the 19th century when harvesting ice grew into a big business, especially in New England. It was the birth of the American commercial refrigeration ice industry that began back in 1805 that changed it. It was Frederick Tudor, who was a merchant from Boston, that created the first commercial natural ice business in the US. He made a fortune shipping ice all around the world to places like Charleston, New Orleans, Calcutta, Cuba, China, England and South America.
It was Tudor's foreman, Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth that came up with many different specialized tools for the ice harvesting such as plows and different saws that helped to improve how the ice for commercial refrigeration was harvested. The ice would be harvested in the winter months and then stored in big ice houses that allowed for distribution of ice all year round.
There were special ice trains that eventually were created for commercial refrigeration and this meant that during the summer months, these special trains would carry the ice to it's various destinations. On an average day, fifty cars would leave their operations in Milton, New Hampshire to deliver ice to their customers. It was in 1880, that Wakefield, New Hampshire started doing the same thing and they opened up what was called the Independent and Driver's Union Ice commercial refrigeration companies.
In the 1800s in the Boston area, it was said that they harvested over 600,000 tons of ice and that there were 381,000 tons of ice that was sold as well as consumed. In the United States alone, it was said that they used over 5,000,000 tons of ice each year and by 1900 they were using over 10,000,000 tons each year.
It was during this time that commercial refrigeration companies supplied mainly to places like restaurants, dairies, breweries, markets and meat packing plants as well as hospitals that needed to have ice all year round to make sure special medications and blood were kept at an even temperature year round.
In the mid 1800s, the ice harvesting not only supplied commercial refrigeration but it began to trickle into the average persons home where they would have ice boxes to store the ice in their own homes. This ice box had ice placed on top of the box and then air would circulate around it. This led to a lot of different companies capitalizing on this and in the late 1800s they began to manufacture more and more of these ice boxes, which would later be known as refrigerators.