Michigan’s Ice Wagons, Houses, and Harvesters: 1900-1930
Who takes refrigerators and freezers for granted?
We all do.
We buy our ice cream, frozen vegetables, meats, etc, and shove ‘em in the freezer for an indefinite time. We get milk, fresh fruit & vegetables, cheese, and butter and lob ‘em into the fridge for later.
Now – what do you think our forefathers did over 100 years ago before freezers & fridges?
Well, they did have an ice box to keep stuff cold. I mean, literally, a box that held a huge block or cakes of ice. But how’d they get this ice? It came delivered, usually by a horse-drawn wagon. Okay, fine, but where did the ice come from? How did the delivery people get it?
According to Crystal Ice's page, chunks of ice were harvested from frozen-over lakes and ponds during the winter and stored in ice houses. Enough blocks of ice were stored that would make it through hot summers until the next winter, when more ice would be cut and stored. Horse-drawn carriages - insulated by straw for less ice shrinkage - would transport these blocks of ice to storage units. The storage buildings were usually insulated as well, with stone, straw, wool, and other material. Some were underground.
The home ice boxes weren’t as efficient as today’s fridges, and ice would sometimes be all melted by the next day, caught by a drip pan underneath that had to emptied every few hours. To get the desired size, homeowners had cards of which they would place in the front window, letting the ice wagon driver know what was needed. They could normally order blocks of ice that ranged from 25 to 100 pounds each.
With the advent of electric refrigerators and freezers, it was only a matter of time before ice wagons were put out of business…but the making and harvesting of ice continues…
Take a look at the gallery below for photos of ice wagons, harvesting. and storage from over 100 years ago!
Michigan Ice Houses and Delivery Wagons, Early 1900s
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