Jonathan Rees
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The many ways that water froze
A taxonomy of ice in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America
in Ice humanities
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Boston merchant Frederic Tudor became the first person to sell ice commercially in 1806. Over the course of the nineteenth century American entrepreneurs developed a great variety of uses for that product. Those uses benefited greatly from a remarkable variety of available ice. Clear or opaque, in blocks or in cubes, natural or artificial, dirty or clean, Americans both harvested and manufactured different kinds of ice for different markets. Some of this variety was the result of nature. Different quality water produced different quality ice. In fact, different parts of the same pond generally went for different prices because some parts of an ice block were cleaner than others. Similarly, water with a current produced cleaner ice than water from a lake or pond because it repelled the kinds of sediment that would stay in people’s glasses when they were done with their drinks. Some of this variety was the result of deliberate decisions by the American ice industry. Ice harvesters would drill holes in ponds and push them down to promote nature creating larger blocks. The first artificial ice manufacturers realized that stirring water as it froze produced clearer ice, for which customers were willing to pay a higher price. Yet none of these changes mattered quite so much in those many instances when their buyers only cared about price.

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Ice humanities

Living, working, and thinking in a melting world


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