National Geographic : 1987 Jan
Winter was harvesttime, when neighbors came together to reap a summer's supply of ice, before the era of widespread artificialrefrigeration.The old tools still work for members of the New Bremen, New York, Volunteer Fire Department (top), who store ice to sell to campers. After scrapingsnow off Crystal Pond,they use a power saw to score the surface-horsespulled ice plows until early in this century-then saw the blocks by hand. Layers of sawdust insulate the crop in an icehouse. The Chinese stockpiled ice as early as 1000 B.C. Ancient Greeks and Romans chilled their wine with snow kept in straw-linedpits, though Hippocrates thought "drinkingout of ice" was a health hazard.Summer ice was a novelty for wealthy 18th-century Europeans,but storage techniques in Persiawere so advanced that one traveler wrote, "the poorest are enabledto have it." As long-term storageimproved, ice became increasinglyavailable to preservefood. The first "refrigerator" was patented in 1793 by Thomas Moore, a Marylandfarmerfamed for delivering hard butter in summer months. His invention was a cedartub fitted at the top with a tin ice tray and wrappedin rabbitpelts for extra insulation.Moore's widely read essay describinghow cold air sinks and circulates led others to design kitchen iceboxes. The tong-wielding icemen who stocked them (right)melted away in the 1930s with the advent of electric refrigerators. Ice-harvestingcompanies, which once shipped their wares as far as Calcutta, also folded. The natural-ice industry had already been crippled by competitors who artificiallyfroze ice through vapor compression. In 1912, when fire destroyed a MountainIce Company warehouse in New Jersey (farright), the surviving ice was simply allowed to melt "as it would not pay to prepare it for shipment under the prevailinglow prices." The melting took weeks. Now catering to a leisure society, the U. S. packaged-ice industry registers a billion dollars in annual sales.