“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.