New York’s greedy ice barons

“Ice famines” were a big deal in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Without a cheap, steady supply, restaurants and factories couldn’t keep perishables from spoiling. And city dwellers couldn’t keep cool with an icy drink or ice cream, the latest fad.

The problem, apparently, was sometimes Mother Nature’s fault: a mild winter resulted in a shortage. Or, as a May 1900 New York Times article alleges, ice companies purposely jacked their prices:

“The sixty million dollar ice trust, known as the American Ice Company, which has succeeded in securing what is practically an absolute monopoly on the ice business in New York City, has just increased the cost of ice to consumers 100 percent…. Resentment against the trust exists under every roof, but there seems to be no way of evading its oppression.”

So how much did ice cost in 1900? According to the story, “Ice here last year was sold to families at 25 cents per 100 pounds.” A 100 percent price hike would have made it 50 cents.

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10 Responses to “New York’s greedy ice barons”

  1. Ricky Says:

    There were many icehouses along the Hudson River and the ice was brought to New York City mostly by barges down the Hudson River. Ice harvesting started in January, but most companies counted on a 50% loss from harvest to delivery, but a well-maintained icehouse could limit the loss to 25%. By WWI the natural ice industry was virtually extinct, and after the war it was finished.

  2. Henry A.Clarke 3rd Says:

    In the 1940’s as a child I would
    welcome our iceman (who also
    had to climb up 4 flights of stairs) at
    Second avenue and 74th street a
    building I grew up in that no longer stands.
    I imagine for my parents getting ice delivered
    was still less expensive then electricity or
    gas to keep food cool.

  3. ralph ng Says:

    Ice helped build and sustain the Hudson River cities and towns, and ice was also a major export commodity to India where it sold for considerably more in the 19th Century than it fetched in the Northeast. It was sold for sterling, and probably bartered for opium, which was sold for even more sterling in China (helping to fan the flames that caused the Boxer rebellion, although the Christian Missionaries were the worse provocation according to historical data, revisionist history points to the economically crippling drain caused by the opium epidemic.

    Ice also helped sustain the straw industry, as that was how ice was insulated during shipping.

  4. Carl Ulmer Says:

    The Ice King was Charles W. Morse, of Bath, Maine. He employed around 1,500 men cutting ice from rivers and ponds in Maine and floating it down the Androscoggin r5and Kennebec Rivers where it was harvested and loaded onto ships which carried it to Washington, D.C., Charleston, S.C., Jacksonville, Fla. Long, ice houses with thick outside walls insulated with sawdust from Maine’s thriving logging industry, were built into the banks of those Maine rivers where ice was stored for later shipment down the coast, during the sweltering summer months.

    Morse’s American Boat Building Company built his ice transport fleet and also naval vessels. For these enterprizes, he was proclaimed The Ship King of the Atlantic Coast.

  5. Robert Maher Says:

    Rockland Lake, 30 miles north of New York City was home to the Knickerbocker Ice Company that latter became the American Ice Company. Every January, is the Knickerbocker Ice festival at Rockland Lake.

  6. The remains of some defunct city businesses « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] ice industry was actually pretty dirty back in the […]

  7. Charles Savoie Says:

    For “Ice Trust” read “Pilgrims Society,” same as for all the other trusts—Wall Street’s top Secret Society, and sponsored by The Crown of England.

  8. Delivering blocks of ice to an overheated city | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] ice delivery companies, though, weren’t necessarily on the side of their customers, as the actions of these greedy ice barons makes […]

  9. Deborah Thornton Krajewski Says:

    my great grand father Denis McHugh was and ice dealer in Brooklyn in the early 1900. I am unable to find any information on his ice business. Could you help?

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