OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895



Founded 24 January 1895

Meeting Number 1722
4:00 P.M.

November 17, 2005

"Ice for Health and Profit"

Rex L. Britt

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library



Ice For Health and Profit
By Rex L. Britt

Icebox Remembrances

During research for this paper, I made several inquiries of very helpful staff members at the A. K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, California. Each of them just happened to be more than 40 years younger than I am. Each time I said my topic was "Ice" , I was greeted with a questioning look. I would then say, "You know, frozen water." There would be a knowing response and then quickly another quizzical look. I understand. Ice is mostly made in the refrigerator at home, unless you need a lot for a party and then you buy a bag of cubes at the market. What more is there to say about ice?

When the kids on our block were in school, we were not able to celebrate his arrival, but during the long, warm days of summer when I was growing up in Lynwood, California, the highlight of the day often was the arrival of the ice truck. As soon as its boxy white shape could be made out down the street, who ever saw it first would announce in a loud voice to all the other kids in the block. "Iceman's coming!" Because we lived at the far end of the block, my younger sister and I would head up the street, gathering friends as we went, intercepting the Union Ice Company truck at his first stop on our block.

I remember an older, heavy duty truck, with no doors on the cab so the driver could slip in and out quickly. The back of the truck was a big wooden enclosure, tall enough for a man to stand up inside. There were no doors on the back, only a heavy canvas flap that could be tied in place or tied off to the side, out of the way. We would run to the back of the truck as it stopped in front of a house and begin our search for ice chips. Sometimes there would already be nice ice chips available for the taking. Other times, the kids in the previous block would have taken them all. In that case, we would wait while the ice man climbed into the bed of the truck, pulled his trusty icepick out of its little leather holster on his belt and with a few well aimed jabs would break either a 50 or 25 pound block from one of the 150 pound blocks in the truck and slide it to the rear. Then dropping to the pavement, he would place a leather or burlap cover on his shoulder, stoop a little, slide the ice off the rear of the truck onto his shoulder, stand and head for the back door of the house, balancing the ice on his shoulder with one hand, leaving the other one free to open the door. There was no knocking or pausing at the door, just open it wide with the loud announcement, "Iceman!". Sometimes the ice would be carried with ice tongs, a large steel scissors like device that gripped the block of ice on each side with sharp points that were held in place by the weight of the ice when lifted up by one of the handles of the tongs.

In a few seconds he would be back outside, throw his shoulder covering into the back of the truck, climb up into the cab and head down the street to the next customer. It was during the short time he was inside the house that we kids would gather up ice chips near the rear of the truck and holding them in our hands, chew and suck the ice until it was melted or our hands became too numb with cold to hold it any longer.

The way the iceman knew where and when to stop and deliver was the card in the window. In the morning my mother would check the ice compartment in our icebox and then put up the ice card for as many pounds as she thought the icebox would hold that day. The ice card was usually near a window that faced on the street. I remember a white card not quite a foot square, with dark blue letters in the middle that said ICE. Each of the four corners of the card had a number that would be right side up if that number was at the top as the card hung in the window or stood on the window sill. The numbers were 25, 50, 75 and 100 which meant that was how many pounds of ice you needed that day. One quick glance from his truck was enough for the iceman to know how much ice to bring into the house or whether to drive on by that day.

The part of this remembrance that seemed to mystify my young friend in the library was that we placed the money for the ice on the kitchen table inside the unlocked back door. If we were not home, the iceman would leave the ice, make change and would lock the back door if we taped a note to the inside of the door asking him to. Once in a while we would be gone and forget to set out the money. He would deliver the ice and collect from us the next time. We never questioned the honesty or integrity of our iceman.

What my young helpers in the library did not seem to realize is that before the mid 1920's, in nearly all of the homes in the United States, ice was the only means of keeping food cold to prevent spoiling. The same was true in most of the homes in the 1930's and in many homes until the mid 1940's. Iceboxes, in all sorts of sizes and shapes were as common a household item as refrigerators are today and they all required a constant supply of ice.

My family was among the last to get a refrigerator in our neighborhood. Finances had been very difficult during the depression in the 1930's. Life became better when we moved to what was then the small, rural town of Lynwood California in the spring of 1940. My parents bought a house for $1,200 and added a living room and two more bedrooms for $800.00. My grandparents had purchased a used refrigerator about that time and we all agreed it was a very noisy machine. My father said he did not want a noisy thing like that waking him up at night, so we waited a couple years until we could afford a new, quieter refrigerator. By then it was 1942 and World War II had stopped all sales of new refrigerators which meant we cooled our food with ice until late 1945.


To run out of ice was the equivalent to a power failure today. On the other hand, with a well stocked icebox, a power failure was no problem. As a ten year old, the biggest handicap I felt having an icebox was when the ice was getting low, my mother would not let us chip off chunks to put in our Kool Aid or occasional soft drink. The temperature in an icebox was probably not much below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice cream would melt in an icebox, so when it was brought home from the store, it had to be eaten right away. That was always fine with me.

My mother's biggest complaint about the icebox was the drip pan. As the ice melted, it had to be drained away from the ice or the water standing around the ice would cause it to melt too fast. The ice was kept in the top of the icebox on a galvanized metal shelf with turned up sides and shaped to collect the water in a pipe which went out the bottom of the icebox. Inside the icebox the shelves were made to allow air to circulate around the melting ice in the top of the icebox and back down to the lower shelves where the food was kept. There would be space under the icebox for an average size dishpan. The water from the ice would drip into this pan. Depending on the temperature in the house, this drip pan would fill in about 12 hours. The duty of the first person in the kitchen in the morning was to empty the drip pan. The pan needed to be checked more often during the day in warm weather and always the last thing before bed at night. I remember many times coming into the kitchen in my bare feet early in the morning and stepping into a layer of cold water across most of the kitchen floor. If my mother arrived in the kitchen first, she would announce for all the house to hear, A We forgot the drip pan last night, get the mop.

Some people drilled a hole in the floor and ran a hose outside for the drip water. Our house was on a solid concrete slab, so we were stuck with the detested drip pan. When the drip pan was very full, you had to be very careful as you lifted it from the floor to the sink. Many times I spilled ice cold water on myself and the floor when the pan was too full.


Beginnings of the Ice Industry

How did all this ice in the house business get started? On February 13, 1806, Frederic Tudor of Boston sailed for Martinique in the West Indies on his newly purchased sailing ship. In the holds were 130 tons of ice that had been cut from the surface of nearby frozen ponds. The blocks of ice were carried to the ship in horse drawn wagons and loaded on board and covered with straw for insulation. The local people including some in his own family thought he was foolish if not crazy. Who would pay money for ice, even if he could get it there without melting. But Tudor was convinced he was on his way to making a fortune and had enough of his family's considerable wealth under his control to attempt it.


That first ice delivery by ship to a warm climate was a financial disaster but only because there was no proper storage place at the destination and no market had been created for the use of ice in an area where most people had never seen it before. However, that first ship load of ice introduced ice-cream to Martinique and made possible the first chilled drinks ever served in the local bars. Most of the citizens had never experienced either one, but they liked them immediately. Bringing a load of sugar back to Boston, Tudor set out to do more advance preparation before shipping his next load of ice.

Over the next year he constructed ice storage houses in the several warm climate seaport cities. These buildings were basically a wooden building within another wooden building with the space between filled with sawdust and wood shavings and peat if not enough sawdust was available. Adding a few more ports each year, within a few years Tudor, and then others were shipping ice to Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans in the United States, to ports throughout the Caribbean and as far away as India.

In England, ice had been cut in the winter time and stored for use in warmer months for many years but ice imported from Wenham Lake in New England was said to be better. It was very clear to the eye and said to melt slower than English ice because it was colder. No doubt the major difference between the Wenham Lake ice and the English ice was the marketing. Tudor was said to be in the tradition of the true entrepreneurial Yankee merchant.

Brand names usually noting where the ice was from began to appear on ice carts on the streets of New York City. This was not unlike the names on bottled water today. While the names of clear, clean lakes in New England were on the outside of the carts, the ice inside the cart often came from places including ice cut from the Hudson River up stream from the city.

Railroad transportation opened vast new markets for ice in the United States and a new industry was born with the manufacture of "refrigerators" as the first iceboxes were called. Most were made of wood, lined with cork for insulation with a galvanized steel interior.

Cutting winter ice and storing it in huge insulated icehouses to provide a year round supply for the growing country became a major industry in New England. In the late 1800's, breweries were one of the major users of ice. German style beer must be cooled in the brewing process. Making good beer available in warmer months required many tons of ice.

By 1880, Chicago had became the major meat packing center of the nation. This was partly because of easy rail access to the cattle and hog growing areas, but the other factor was the availability of ice. When the Armour and Swift meat packing companies located in Chicago, they purchased lakeshore properties on which they built huge icehouses, the largest capable of storing as much as 250,000 tons of ice in one building. The ice was cut from the surface of the frozen lake each winter. Additional ice storage facilities were built at strategic places along the rail lines, so ice could be added to the hundreds of refrigerator cars that carried meat from Chicago to markets through out the country.


Milwaukee also became a major ice producer shipping ice by rail and boat. By the time of the 1880 census, ice had become such a major industry in the United States that a special agent was added to the national staff for the purpose of compiling ice industry statistics. His name was Henry Hall and his statistics give us an idea of the scope of the business in the 1880's.

While he said it was hard to know for sure, the best estimate was that 8 to 10 million tons of ice were harvested in the winter of 1879 - 1880. The biggest user was New York City where 956,000 tons of ice were sold. This did not include Brooklyn which accounted for another 334,500 tons. The 20 largest cities in the United States with a combined population of not quite 6 million people, bought 4 million tons of ice in 1880. Ice consumption in the cities had grown to about 2/3 of a ton per person each year!

International trade was continuing. British records show that in 1870, India imported 17,000 tons of ice from Boston.


Mechanical Refrigeration

In 1860, Ferdinand Carr' patented a process that used vaporized ammonia to make ice. The process used a steam driven compressor and was not very efficient but it did make things cold enough to freeze water.

The earliest account of the use of this new technology in the United States was during the Civil War. Because of the Union naval blockade of the Mississippi River, New Orleans could no longer receive shipments of ice. Having developed a taste for cold drinks in the bars of the city, something had to be done. Somehow two of the new ice making machines were smuggled into the city from France. The results were not very successful for bar drinks but it was reported that hospitals made good use of the manufactured ice.

Well into the 20 th century, ammonia was the most widely used refrigerant. By modern standards, pipes and seals were poorly made. To be efficient in the cooling process required high pressures and the results were many leaks and explosions in the ice factories, often causing injury and death. It was said that every time there was a report of another ice factory explosion somewhere in the country, the ice workers in New England rejoiced. The ice industry in New England, especially in Massachusetts had become a vital part of the local economy. Farmers would rent teams of horses to the ice companies in the winter when there was little for the horses to do on the farms. The horses would pull steel ice cutters across the frozen ponds scoring the ice into large rectangles which would be broken apart, removed from the lakes and placed in storage. Cutting and harvesting ice was very hard, dangerous work and the pay was low. Each block of ice would weigh 100 pounds or more and one slip could send a worker into ice cold water. A steady supply of workers was found among the unemployed immigrants who were entering the country from Europe in the late 1800's. The ice companies employed thousands of German, Polish and Hungarian immigrants across the northern states.

Even with increasing efficiency in the manufacturing of ice, the so called natural ice industry was not worried, because their estimate was that until ice could be manufactured for less than $20.00 a ton, they could compete. But there was another growing problem. As the populations of the cities increased, so did the pollution of the nearby water. During the last two decades of the 19th century, contamination closed the Hudson River and most of the rivers and lakes around Chicago and Milwaukee to ice harvesting. This left the small, clear rural lakes of New England as the remaining major sources of clean ice. Railroad tracks were laid up to the loading docks of the ice storage buildings at all the major ice ponds in New England and the business thrived.

By the 1890's, the natural ice industry had become a little defensive. An article in the Redlands Citrograph on January 20, 1894 reported that the Massachusetts Board of Health was warning the nation that impurities in manufactured ice made it unsafe for use in the home. In response, in the same article, the Union Ice Company stated that the process used in the Redlands ice factory involved spraying the water before it was frozen, thus removing into the air any impurities in the water. Using Redlands as an example, natural ice would have been frozen in an open pond, walked on by horses, handled by numerous persons, shipped thousands of miles behind a sooty steam engine in a wooden railway car. The other option was ice frozen in a closed building three miles away using water from a fresh mountain stream (Big Bear Lake). From the health perspectives of the 21 st century, this would seem to be an easy choice to make. The natural ice industry declined rapidly after 1900 but it had been a major source of ice for health and profit for 100 years.

Again in France, mechanical refrigeration technology was advancing. In 1903, a Citercion Monk named Marcel Audiffren who was a physics teacher, developed an electric drive in a sealed container using sulfur dioxide gas that was the first "modern" refrigerator. The first unit of that type came to the United States in 1904.

General Electric began modifying and improving on the French design and marketing the first home mechanical refrigerators. In 1926, GE sold 2,000 units nation wide. In 1937 GE sold three million. The end of home ice delivery was about eight years away.

Into the 1950's, there was still one very large market for ice in California. All of the citrus and fresh produce grown in the state and shipped across the country was loaded into "refrigerator cars" at the packing houses. These insulated railway cars were kept cool by ice placed in large bunkers at each end of the car. The ice bunkers would be filled through hatches in the roof of the car. Icing platforms were constructed along the railways at strategic places where 300 pound blocks of ice would hoisted to car top level, usually by a conveyor belt. Once shoved into place by the hatches, the 300 pound blocks would be broken into about 25 pound chunks and dropped into the railcar.

There was a large icing station along the Southern Pacific tracks in Colton that was in use until the late 1950's. At that point it was taken down and the land used to expand the rail yard in Colton because the old ice cooled cars of Pacific Fruit Express were quickly replaced by railcars containing their own diesel powered refrigeration units.

The development of self contained refrigeration units for trucks soon began taking business away from the railroads as it was now possible to keep large truck loads cold for long distances without ice. This meant not only the end of another market for ice, it was also the end of a lot of part time jobs for those University of Redlands students who could handle the heavy work of maneuvering 300 pound blocks of ice on the tops of railcars.


Meanwhile in California

The ice industry in California began much as it had in New England with the harvesting of ice from lakes and ponds in the winter. Because of the warmer climate in California, ice harvesting was only possible in the higher elevations. From the Sierra Mountains, blocks of ice were transported on sleds and horse drawn wagons to icehouses in the valley and coastal areas near San Francisco. In 1882, several small ice companies that harvested ice from lakes and ponds in central and northern California, merged to form the Union Ice Company. By the early years of the 20 th century, Union Ice Company had built dozens of ice factories and was thriving throughout California becoming the largest employer in the state. At its peak, Union Ice Company had facilities in 482 cities in California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. As the population grew in California, so did the need for ice and the business grew dramatically.

In the January 14, 1893 edition of the Redlands Citrograph, there is a small article noting that the foundation was being laid for an ice factory in Redlands. It was a year of several beginnings in Redlands. Redlands Orange Growers Association was organized on May 12. Arthur Gregory's packing house was completed on August 1. The city was first lighted by electricity on August 5. The Chamber of Commerce was created on November 12. A Public Library association was formed November 23. On November 27, Union Ice Company marketed its first ice in Redlands and the first full railcar load of lemons was shipped December 1. The successful shipping of fruit to far away places was now possible with a good supply of ice to keep it fresh along the way.

The Union Ice Company history states that Union Ice was the first commercial customer of Southern California Edison. Most likely that would be the ice factory mentioned by The Citrograph on January 14, 1893. The possibility of a near by major commercial customer was an incentive to build the hydroelectric plant that is still in operation on Mill Creek above Redlands and has a monument designating it as Southern California Edison Mill Creek Plant No. 1. This generating station was the first high voltage three phase power plant in the world, engineered by Harry H. Sinclair of Redlands and financed mostly by Henry Fisher who had made a great deal of money in oil in Pennsylvania.

In the book Fun with Fritz, John "Fritz" Fisher, son of Henry Fisher describes that early ice factory as follows: "As far as I know, the first electrically operated ice plant in California was located near the little town of Mentone. (Near the corner of Wabash and Colton Avenue) on the system for the Redlands Electric Light and Power Company. A fairly good-sized building about three stories high was constructed by an independent company (Union Ice Co.). The inside of this building was completely frozen in one cake of ice. After the freezing process, a crisscross network of pipes was laid on top of the ice and warm water circulated through the pipes, resulting in their melting down through the ice. The cakes were broken off as fast as the pipes melted down."

The ice factory needed an abundant supply of good water, a source of energy to run the machinery and a means of transporting the heavy ice. All three came together three miles east of downtown Redlands, just east and north of the intersection of Colton Avenue and Wabash. The tracks of both the Southern Pacific and A T & S F railroads crossed the main canal of the Bear Valley Water Company at that point and were far enough apart to place the ice factory between them allowing for sidings on either line. Just a few miles up the road was the new three phase alternating current hydroelectric plant. Union Ice Company and Redlands could be proud of a modern factory producing a much needed product in abundance. Of course by later standards the operation was labor intensive and inefficient.

Large blocks of ice were loaded into railroad box cars at the ice factory for shipping to ice distribution locations. The actual size and weight of the ice blocks from Union Ice Factory #2 is not clear but the later standard became 300 pounds. The ice blocks would be pushed from place to place within the building, usually by two men, lifted by conveyor belts or other machinery to higher places and eventually muscled into railroad boxcars. When a car was filled with ice, a steam locomotive would move the car out of the siding to the main track and move an empty car to the loading dock. Because of the slope of the land, and therefore tracks running downhill, in Redlands the loaded boxcars had to be handled very carefully.

The May 11, 1894 edition of the Citrograph has an account of what happened when things went wrong. When they were not part of a train, brakes were set on individual cars by a brakeman climbing to the top of a railcar and turning a large iron wheel which tightened a chain which would set the brakes. On that day in May, a boxcar full of ice had been set out on the main track and the brakes tightened to hold it in place. A little later the locomotive brought out a second loaded boxcar, uncoupled it on the track behind the first car and went back up the track to get an empty. With a brakeman on top tightening the brakes, the car was intended to roll slowly down the track and couple onto the first car and stop. As the brakeman turned the wheel on top of the second boxcar to slow it down, the chain broke leaving the car with no brakes at all. The brakeman for the first car had climbed down to couple the cars when they came together. All he could do was back out of the way as the second car bumped the first car, overpowering its brakes. Both cars full of ice began rolling down hill toward downtown Redlands with a brakeman identified as F. Vedder on top of the second car.

To quote the Citrograph, "Despite the shouts of warning from the rail crew and the workmen at the ice house, by the time he discovered his helpless condition, the cars had attained a frightful speed B a speed of not less than 90 miles an hour when crossing Orange Street. At the switch which was open for the passing siding, the first car stuck ( stayed on the tracks) for a few hundred feet, jumping the track at the freight depot, smashing in the sides of three boxcars on the freight depot siding and stopping with such suddeness that the load of ice shot out of the front of the car scattering for 800 feet ahead. The second car with Vedder on the rear end, jumped the track at the frog (where tracks cross over at a switch) and plowing into the earth, stopped so suddenly that the superstructure left the trucks, turned a complete somersault; lighting on its roof smashing everything into kindling wood, and Vedder describing a graceful parabola to the air, alighted a full 100 feet away on the track between the rails. Drs. Sanborn and Blyth were summoned to attend his injuries which were found to be two fractures of the jaw, a fractured ankle and a fracture of the outer shell of his skull. He was placed on the next train and taken to the hospital at Los Angeles, accompanied by Dr. Sanborn. At last word received as we go to press, he is doing nicely and will in all likelihood pull safely through"

Assuming this accident was on the Southern Pacific tracks, the cars would have crossed Orange Street between the "Citrone" and "Joe Greensleeve's" restaurants, started to derail about 100 yards west of Orange street with the ice of the first car scattered along what is now the driveway of the movie theater.

In the August 25, 1894 issue of the Citrograph, it was reported that Union Ice Company was enlarging its ice factory by 50%. A report in the October 8, 1894 edition stated that the ice factory was now capable of producing 50 tons of ice a day.

The 1915 Fire Insurance Map for Redlands notes that Union Ice Company Factory #2 and storage facility is in operation 24 hours a day with electric power, at least 2 employees present at all times and produces 80 tons of ice a day. The factories water source is listed as the Bear Valley Water Company main canal.

The next Redlands Fire Insurance Map available is for 1928. On that map, Union Ice Company Factory #2 no longer exists. However, Union Ice Company Factory #17 is shown between the Southern Pacific and the A T & S F railroad tracks on the west side of Seventh Street. Information on the map states the factory operation is powered by electricity and steam which is generated by burning crude oil. The plant manager, a Mr. Lee is the same name as the plant manager listed at factory #2 in 1915. By 1928, the entire process for making ice would have changed, making Union Ice Company Factory #2 so out of date it would have been very difficult to convert the older plant to the new process.

The use of steam may have come about because hydroelectric power in southern California could not always be relied upon because of lack of rain. After electric power was introduced to Redlands in 1893, it was found necessary to build a steam powered generating plant to provide power when there was not enough water coming out of the mountains to turn the turbines. This steam plant was on the south side of Citrus Avenue between 5 th and 6 th Streets, where a parking structure exists today. Its smokestack, blowing smoke and soot into the air from the crude oil fired boilers would not be tolerated today. One of the tallest structures in town, the smokestack can be seen in the background of picture of downtown Redlands taken in the early 20 th century.


Working for Union Ice in the 1940's

Lynn Wilbur of Redlands lived in Oceanside California during his teen years before going into the U S Navy during World War II. His father, DeLos Wilbur was the manager of the Union Ice Plant in Oceanside until 1942 when he moved to Redlands. He continued to work with Union Ice Company until he retired, living in Yucaipa and Redlands for the rest of his life.

Lynn shared these memories. The first thing that would stand out entering the ice plant would be the smell of ammonia. Into the 1940's, it was still a common chemical used in the compression - expansion cycle of refrigeration, especially in older ice plants. In those days before neoprene seals and "o" rings, seepage and small leaks were common and the result was the constant smell of ammonia throughout the building.

A notable feature on the outside of the typical ice plant was the cooling tower. It would be a tall structure, often standing above the roof of the building, with the sound of falling water coming from between large louvers. When the ammonia gas was compressed in the large refrigeration compressor, the compressed gas would become very hot. This hot, compressed ammonia would be circulated through pipes submerged in a large vat of water. Since the hot pipes would make the water hot, the water had to be cooled. This was done by pumping it to the top of the cooling tower where it would splash down through the louvers in the cooling tower, being cooled by evaporation. The towers were usually placed in a high location to take advantage of any natural breeze that could help with the cooling process.

Once the compressed gas had been cooled, it would be sent to a series of pipes that were in a large vat of brine, water saturated with salt so that its freezing temperature is much colder than the 32 degrees fahrenheit at which ordinary water freezes. In the brine vats the compressed ammonia would be forced through very small openings into pipes where the pressure was very low because the compressor would be pulling the gas out at the other end.

As the gas expanded beyond the small openings, it would become very cold and chill the brine in the vat to well below freezing. Large rectangular metal containers that were open on top would be filled with 36 gallons of clean, drinkable water and hanging by chains, suspended in the cold brine. In a short time, the result was a very large ice tray full of frozen water. Overhead machinery would lift the now frozen container out of the brine and move it to another large vat where it would be suspended in warm water just long enough to allow the ice to be freed from the metal container which would then be tipped on its side to remove a 300 pound block of ice. The new ice would then be sent through a series of saws that would score the block about an inch deep so that with an ice pick it could be easily broken into twelve 25 pound blocks. This process completed, the ice was moved into a cold storage room to be stored until needed.

The 300 pound blocks of ice were the standard size for many uses. They were often split in half when loaded into the ice trucks for home delivery. These blocks would in turn be split into 50 and 25 pound blocks and placed in the iceboxes of the home customers. Lynn remembers in the summer of 1942 when he was delivering ice, the cost of a 25 pound block of ice, delivered through the door and placed in the icebox was 36 cents.

In the 1940's, the major industry in the Oceanside area was produce. The fresh lettuce, celery and so on would be loaded in "refrigerator" cars with ice bunkers at each end. Where there were large operations like the orange packing houses in Redlands, icing stations were built with platforms at the height of the cars and conveyors to lift the ice to that level. Union Ice would also "ice down" an individual rail car on a siding by bringing a truck load of ice and a truck mounted conveyor that would place the ice on the top of the car where it could be broken up and placed in the railcar. Either way, it was a strenuous, dangerous job.

One of Lynn's early jobs with Union Ice Company was making ice cubes. Starting with a 25 pound block of ice, he would push it through a series of saws that would cut into the block about an inch apart. He would turn the block 90 degrees, and cut again. the resulting squares would be cut off of the main block and bagged to be sold as ice cubes. This work was done in the cold storage room of the ice plant. Being the son of the manager, his father wanted him to set a good example for the other employees so he was expected to make a lot of ice cubes. Lynn said he was probably the only one who worked up a sweat in the cold storage room.

In 1939 there were six ice delivery companies listed in the Redlands city directory. In the 1947 city directory, there was only one, Union Ice Company. The company is still in business and advertises two divisions, one is Refrigerated Warehousing with cold storage and cold transportation. The other division is Ice Products which advertises crushed ice, cubed ice, packaged ice, blocks for ice carving and ice sculptures for weddings, birthdays and other special occasions. They can provide blown snow to create winter any time of the year in the place of your choice. The company also provides cold movie sets and all the ice and snow needed to turn warm Hollywood into a winter wonderland without leaving town.

There was a time in American history when ice was essential for the food and restaurant industries and a daily necessity delivered to homes six days a week. That era exist now only in sketchy histories and the memories of an older generation. Inquiries with the Union Ice Company produced a reply that except for some brief history written by some employees in the 1960's, most of the company's background is now lost.

The sale of ice for health and profit changed drastically after the 1950's. What had been a huge, highly visible and more or less taken for granted industry seemed to disappear over night and almost no one noticed. Now we take for granted a refrigerator in our kitchen making all the ice we need while cooling or freezing our food and drinks. For parties with lots of cold drinks, we can always buy a bag of ice at the local market.

Home refrigeration also brought the huge frozen food industry which was never possible in the icebox days. For ice cream fans, it is certainly more convenient to be able to keep ice cream at home to eat when you choose and cold drinks are much colder now than when we would have to get the ice pick and go to the icebox to break off some ice chunks that would fit in a glass. This seems almost unreal when I try to describe it to my children and grandchildren who were born long after the age of the icebox in the kitchen and the iceman coming in the back door.

In my parents home, the best thing of all about finally having a refrigerator was not having to worry about the overflowing drip pan. But for a while, on hot summer days, I kind of missed those ice chips from the back of the truck of the trustworthy iceman who over the years saw you and your kitchen in most every condition, smiled, never commented on what he saw, and kept your food from spoiling for a few cents a day. Such is the price of progress.

We would not want to return to those "ice ages" but it is worthwhile to note that in the United States, for 150 years human ingenuity made use of frozen water to provide the average household with a healthy variety of fresh food and cold drinks, and make a healthy profit.

Ice for Health and Profit
A Little About the Author of this Paper

The Rev. Rex L. Britt retired July 1, 1998 after serving in the ministry of the United Methodist Church for 43 years. He met his wife Jenell while he was a student at the University of Redlands. Rex has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Redlands and a Master of Theology degree from the Claremont School of Theology. He served as pastor of Redlands First United Methodist Church from 1983 to 1991. Immediately before retirement Rex was Superintendent of the Hawaii District of the United Methodist Church

At the age of 6, Rex Britt's family moved to Lynwood, California. That was in 1940 when Lynwood was a small town where the children of the neighborhood played kick the can in the street on summer evenings. Most back yards contained a vegetable garden and a chicken pen, half the land in town was vacant and many of the kitchens in town still contained an icebox and the iceman came six days a week.


Ice for Health and Profit
by Rex L. Britt


Since early times in human history, people have known that cold helped preserve food. However, not until the development of ways to ship and store ice was this possible in many places and many seasons. Beginning in 1806, the sale of ice became a major industry that lasted more than 120 years. Storage of ice, shipping by ship and rail brought ice and its advantaged to most parts of the world where rail or sea transportation was available.

With the invention of mechanical refrigeration, ice could be manufactured wherever steam or electric power was available. Until the development of practical home refrigeration, this meant an ice factory could provide for the cooling needs of a community like the city of Redlands, or an industry like the shipping of naval oranges to distant markets. The Redlands ice factory began operation in 1893 and was the first all electric ice factory in California.

With increased availability of mechanical refrigeration, the sale and delivery of ice for home use declined until by the late1940's it had practically ceased. With diesel powered refrigeration applied to individual railway cars and long distance trucks in the late 1950's, the end came for need for tons of ice used in shipping perishable products by rail. Now ice sold by the thousands of tons is mostly a memory and a once huge industry now provides cold storage, ice blocks for carving, snow for the movies and bags of cubes for parties.

Footnotes omitted online. See the original paper in the AK Smiley Public Library, Redlands, California. 

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