Ice Ice Baby

It was cut from lakes and rivers, and then stored in containers insulated with saw dust. In 19th century North America, the ice trade was suddenly a new business. Ice was transported in insulated railroad cars and ships. Soon ice had found markets across the globe, from New York to Bombay, from Madras to Calcutta.

On February 13, 1806, ‘Favorite’ left Boston harbor with large chunks of ice cut from the frozen Massachusetts lake. This ship was bound for Martinique, a Carribean island. The man behind this was a Boston Brahmin, Frederic Tudor, who was later known as the ‘Ice King’.

Hundreds of tonnes of ice survived journey that spanned thousands of miles, and over four months, revolutionizing the domestic lives of millions of people around the world. A marketing genius, Tudor trained bartenders to use ice in cocktails and evangelised the idea of cold drinks.

Tudor’s ships supplied ice to Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras. Ice was stored in insulated buildings known as ice houses – there was one each in each of these locations. (Only the one in Chennai survives. Vivekanandar Illam in Chennai was nothing but Chennai’s ice house).

Across these ports, the demand for ice was rising. British community was in love with this – ice was the in thing, for cooling water, to be used as palliative for those with fever and stomach disorders. Soon, ice was no longer a luxury item, it was a necessity. Tudor had monopoly over the trade in Calcutta.

The Bengal Ice Company, India’s first artificial-ice manufacturer, began production in 1878. Cheaper domestic ice from them killed Tudor’s business with India.

Pollution in water bodies, and methods to produce artificial ice like industrial refrigerators and domestic fridges slowly melted the ice industry. Tudor, and his rivals built an international trade which died during the onslaught of technology and innovation.

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