Hi y’all. Happy Labor Day! I hope you’re able to take advantage of the holiday to kick back and do something relaxing or fun or, better yet, both!
My latest project had a deadline of Sept. 1st and after a number of very late nights getting it polished up and ready to send in I’m kicking back a bit myself before I dive into the next project.
But on to the current post. I was recently doing a bit of research to see if it would be possible for someone in Texas in 1890 to have access to ice in the middle of summer. I knew, of course, that in the northern parts of the country, folks would harvest large blocks of ice in the winter and store them away underground or in some other manner that would ensure they would have ice available for most of the year. But here in the south it is rare that the ponds and lakes freeze over, even during the coldest parts of the year.
So, I started digging around for info, and in the process I discovered a few interesting little tidbits. Though some pioneering efforts into artificial ice manufacturing were already in place in the first half of the nineteenth century, the application was very limited and “natural ice” was still the most common source.
Before the Civil War “natural ice” was shipped from points north to the south via rail and ship. In fact, ice from New York was shipped as far away as India. (Who would have thought ice would survive a trip like that?)
The change from the use of natural ice to that of manufactured ice was slow in coming. Many folks distrusted ice created in the crude factories, believing natural ice was healthier and cleaner (despite the questionable sanitary conditions of the water sources and collection procedures). The push to accept artificial ice was ultimately accelerated by those in the south who grew tired of having to rely on the north for their supplies. This grew more pronounced with the advent of the Civil War, when the south was almost entirely cut off from their ice suppliers. It was at this time that enterprising and inventive men stepped forward to develop alternatives.
Texas and Louisiana, it appears, played a large role in the early work here in the United States relating to the development of commercial ice manufacturing.
In 1865 Daniel Livingston Holden made several improvements on the Carre absorption machine, a device patented in France, and installed it in San Antonio. Within two years three of the eight ice manufacturing companies in the US were located in San Antonio
In 1868 the Louisiana Ice Manufacturing Company of New Orleans opened the very first large scale artificial ice manufacturing facility – a plant with a sixty ton capacity.
Charles Zilker, who moved to Austin, TX from Indiana was another early entrepreneur in the ice-making arena. In 1884, after working in and operating ice plants for a number of years, Zilker built his own plant and made a number of design improvements. He established his first plants in Austin and San Antonio. Later he constructed facilities in any area where he could find a sufficient supply of cooling water for the compressors and enough people to allow him to turn a profit. By 1928 he owned plants raging from Texas to Atlanta to Pittsburg. He eventually sold these for $1 million.
By 1900 there were over 760 ice plants in the US. Texas was home to 77 of these, the most of any state in the union. Beginning in the 1920s there was a gradual decline in commercial ice plants with the greater use of home refrigerators.
So there you have it – a short history of the ice industry in the United States. Wherever and however you’re spending this Labor Day, when you raise those glasses of iced tea or soda, you can thank those enterprising fellows in Texas for helping to develop and improve on the technology that brought those nice cubes of ice to your glass.