Ice Saw & Tongs – 1900
Today’s Throwback Thursday from The PAST Antiques takes us to the early 1900’s, when ice was a major commodity. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s New Englanders anticipated and greatly appreciated the cold weather and the “ice season”. Harvesting ice was a major part of the early economy. People have stored ice in pits and caves for centuries, as having the ice to chill perishable food and supplies was a necessity. From 1800 to the 1920’s northern communities near large bodies of fresh water harvested ice. The “ice season” was short, unless it was an unusually cold winter, it was mainly in January and February when the temperatures were the lowest. In order to harvest, the ice needed to be 14 to 16 inches thick, so that it could hold a team of horses and men. Once the harvest began, it was a tireless job working long hours and 7 days a week until completion. The harvest often brought some much welcomed excitement to the cold bundled up New England towns.
After clearing the ice of snow and cutting grooves, the ice would be sawed into large blocks. The blocks, typically 18” x 30”, would weigh as much as 300 lbs. An ice saw with an iron blade was used to cut through the ice and was then broken off from the main piece with a breaker bar. The ice tongs were used to grab the blocks and manipulate them into place. The ice would then be attached to a sled and hauled ashore by a team of horses. As the industrial revolution approached, steam engines began to replace the horses. The ice would then be hauled up a ramp and into a nearby ice-house or ice wagon. Double walled ice-houses were built close by to the source of ice with thick walls insulated by sawdust, straw, seaweed and other materials from the area. The ice wagons and ice boxes were made of wood. The insides were lined with tin and had insulated walls filled similar materials as mentioned above. A drip pan at the bottom needed to be dumped regularly as the ice melted. The ice industry was a lucrative business in the north. Ice was packed and shipped in wooden ice boxes down to the southern territories and abroad ships to the Caribbean. Icemen also delivered ice in ice wagons to local business and homes. Many residential homes had ice boxes to keep their food and supplies chilled. In the late 1800s, 25lbs of ice delivered 4 times a month would cost about $2.00. In 1850, New York City used approximately 300,000 tons of ice.
Mild winters in 1898 & 1890, spurred inventors to get moving on an alternative to ice. Refrigeration inventions were numerous and by the mid-1920s refrigerators were used throughout the United States. This unfortunately brought an end to the lucrative ice harvesting business; it was far too difficult to compete with modern refrigeration.
The PAST Antiques Marketplace is home to a large variety of antique ice saws and tongs. To see our full selection stop in on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut and check back next week for another Throwback Thursday! Click on a photo below to view it larger.