The Maine Historical Society Newsletter has a very interesting piece this month by Richard Judd on the Kennebec River’s once-flourishing ice-harvesting industry. According to the article, ice was harvested on the Kennebec beginning in the early 1800s and continued through the 1920s. Kennebec ice was distributed widely along the eastern seaboard and even shipped to the West Indies. During the ice-harvesting heyday (1870-1890), the industry employed 25,000 men.
Here’s an excerpt:
Boston merchant Frederic Tudor pioneered the ice trade in the 1810s by designing icehouses and iceboxes and sending his product to the West Indies. Other Boston merchants began shipping ice as a return cargo for the cotton they used in their textile mills.
In 1826 Rufus Page built the first large ice house on the Kennebec, and a few years later Tudor followed suit. Until after the Civil War, ice was largely a luxury item, used for cooling drinks, but when Americans added more dairy and fresh produce to their diets, ice-boxes became a standard feature in the middle-class home, and markets expanded rapidly.