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Mason County Memories


"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" ~ Mark Twain


History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



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Ice Harvest History Column 266 Ice Harvesting is one of those trades that have gone the way of vinyl records, 8 track tapes and Beta. What was once an annual event that often was celebrated by the whole community the ice harvest like the fall harvest of produce was an important economic and community event. How long to you suppose that the commercial harvesting and storing of ice as a trade lasted? Barely more then 100 years. Prior to that time it was a luxury of the rich, and hard to acquire. Frederick Tudor was known as the Boston Ice King, he founded Tudor Ice Company in 1806 and made his first shipment. In the early days it was all trial and error and mostly error. While he had a good idea his customers were not prepared to properly store the ice and a lot of his stored ice melted before it got to market. It was not until years later that he generated a steady profit. You would have thought that Tudor would have sought markets in the southern states but he set his sights on the East Indies where a yellow fever epidemic was rampant. He then proceeded to sell ice and iceboxes to those with the means to satisfy their thirst in the summer heat with a glass of cold, ice chilled lemonade. A break through came in 1825 when Andrew Wyeth invented an ice plow that could score the ice on a frozen lake to create blocks of ice that were 20 inches wide. Before long every Lake and pond became a source of ice, icehouses were built close by both ponds and railroad tracks, ponds were dug near railroad tracks for the purpose of a ready ice supply for metropolitan areas in the summer. The beginning of the end of the ice harvesting trade came in 1890, a winter where the ponds and lakes did not freeze. The resulting ice famine spurred the development and use of ice making equipment in commercial meatpacking and dairy businesses. What was once a privilege of the very rich was now a necessity of the masses. Breweries at one time operated only during the winter, the availability of ice allowed them to operate year round. Fruits could be shipped with minimal spoilage, Fish could be packed in ice after they were caught, and ice cream became a summer treat enjoyed by all. Pic1 Every dairy farmer, meat packer, and home came to rely on a ready supply of ice to cool their meats and dairy products and extend the shelf life of food. One of the harvesters is moving a block of ice into the shed for storage until needed. Pic2 The equipment for harvesting ice was crude and simple to begin with, an axe, a pair of ice tongs, and a saw. As time went forward the tools of the trade were honed and improved upon. This doodlebug rig is scraping the snow down so that the ice can be scored. Pic3 In the beginning it was all done by brute force and strength of mans efforts. Conveyor belts, ice saws, steam and then gas saws replaced the horse and ice plow and greatly increased the production and lowered the cost to the masses. Pic4 Ice blocks are being moved by hand up a make shift ramp into the storage shed. By 1930 when this picture was taken ice harvesting was becoming a thing of the past. Replaced by commercial ice making machines and electric regrigerators. Pic5 This fellow looks rather comfortable as he cruises along cutting ice blocks out of the frozen lake. Pic6 This fellow is breaking blocks of ice loose so that they might be handled easier and loaded on the awaiting trucks . Even so this was a wet, cold, and back breaking job. In many communities though the ice harvest provided enough income to survive for the rest of the year. If you have photographs or stories you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240, email at davep@blackcreekpress.com or mail in care of Ludington Daily News PO Box 340 Ludington Mi 49431.

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