…Icemen had leather vests and a wet piece of sackcloth slung over the right shoulder, and once they had slid the ice into the box, they invariably slipped the sacking off and stood there waiting, dripping, for their money
– Arthur Miller, Timebends: A Life (New York, Harper & Row, 1987), 64.
Ice helped create national and international American industries. The harvesting of ice started on the US east coast and Norway in the early 1800s, being cut from the surface of ponds and streams, then stored in specially constructed ice houses, before being sent on by ship, bare or train to its final destination around the world.
By the mid-1880s, refrigerated railway carriages allowed the meat packing industry – centred around Chicago and Cincinnati – to slaughter cattle locally and send dressed meat east for either the internal or overseas markets. A national industry in fruit and vegetables was likewise created; American and British fishermen preserved their catches in ice to provide longer voyages and bigger catches; and, with ice, the brewing industry could operate all year. U.S. ice exports diminished after 1870, allowing Norway to become a major player in the international market, shipping large quantities of ice to England and Germany.
Deliveries around American cities were made by wagon, with ‘icemen’ establishing their individual routes. Essential tools were wires to tie the bags of cubes, hooks, tongs, and ice picks. Being an iceman was arduous: they usually began their day at 4:00 am and finished late in the evening, depending on both the season and day of the week. Many icemen worked seven days a week and through holidays.
The ice trade peaked between 1880 and 1900. Plant ice (artificially produced) competed with ice harvested from lakes, with its production doubling between 1900 and 1910. By 1914, 26 million tons of plant ice was being produced in the U.S. each year in comparison to the 24 million tons of naturally harvested ice. Despite a temporary increase in production in the U.S. during the World War 1, with an increase in refrigeration, the main ice industry collapsed after the war, though local deliveries of plant ice continued throughout the USA.
Gordon Westover, author of the book Coasting on Wheels, explained to me that the wide spacing of the boards of this Boy Scout coaster wagon (see below) provided drainage when it was used for carrying ice. A larger block of ice could be manhandled in this way to transport it from an iceman’s delivery wagon to a house’s cool storage, or smaller blocks could be collected from the local store by kids using a coaster wagon. A Boy Scout’s civic duties might include delivering blocks of ice in this way to neighbours unable to manage it themselves.
1915-1920 ‘Boy Scout’ Coaster Wagon
Maker: White Wagon Works
BODY LENGTH: 36″ & WIDTH: 25″
Rear Brake (Dual Action)
Patent date: 11 December 1900
This early wooden ‘Boy Scout’ wagon is fitted with a dual action brake on the rear wheels. The ‘U’ shaped hitch at the front can be retracted when a child lies over the top of the wagon to coast it down a hill.
The wagon shows a patent date of 11 December 1900, which relates to inventor Arthur White’s patent. His company, White Wagon Works, was one of the major manufacturers of wooden coaster wagons.
WHITE WAGON WORKS
UNDERNEATH THE BOY SCOUT WAGON
WHITE WAGON WORKS
Compare the photo of the rear of this Boy Scout wagon, above, with an illustration below of a similar coaster wagon showing the White Wagon Works logo (thanks to Gordon Westover for the picture; Gordon also confirmed its age as between 1915-1920).
BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA OFFICIAL HAT
EARLY BOY SCOUT HISTORY
The scout movement in America – ‘Boy Scouts of America’ or B.S.A – followed the formation of the British Boy Scouts in 1910. The American movement was initially beset by all sorts of problems, including racial segregation, patriotism v pacifism, and religion. There were other similar organisations with which the B.S.A competed, but eventually it became the dominant movement and exists to this day.
White Mfg Co information and patent illustration from the book – Coasting on Wheels by Gordon Westover
Ice industry info – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_trade
Ice photo – https://www.kcet.org/shows/lost-la/how-ice-first-came-to-frost-free-los-angeles
Icemen info and photo – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceman_(occupation)