SO A GUY FROM Boston walks into a bar and offers to sell the owner a chunk of ice. To modern ears, that sounds like the opening line of a joke. But 250 years ago, it would have sounded like science fiction—especially if it was summer, when no one in the bar had seen frozen water in months.
In fact, it’s history. The ice guy was sent by a 20-something by the name of Frederic Tudor, born in 1783 and known by the mid-19th century as the “Ice King of the World.” What he had done was figure out a way to harvest ice from local ponds, and keep it frozen long enough to ship halfway around the world.
…But scholars in recent years have suggested that we’re missing something. In fact, they say, the ice trade was a catalyst for a transformation in daily life so powerful that the mark it left can still be seen on our cultural habits even today. Tudor’s big idea ended up altering the course of history, making it possible not only to serve barflies cool mint juleps in the dead of summer, but to dramatically extend the shelf life and reach of food. Suddenly people could eat perishable fruits, vegetables, and meat produced far from their homes. Ice built a new kind of infrastructure that would ultimately become the cold, shiny basis for the entire modern food industry.
Not the first time I’ve read this story, but it’s a very interesting read in how he saw a market for something that did not exist. And stuck with that dream through a lot of hardship to learn a lot about the industry. It’s not a case of training hard enough – it’s a combination of timing, experience and business acumen. The article revolves around the impact to food and lifestyle, but refrigeration is also what makes long distance organ transplants possible.