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How Did They Get Ice Before Ice Makers?

Updated: 6 days ago

In the era before modern refrigeration, the preservation of perishable goods was quite a challenge. However, the invention of antique ice machines marked a huge turning point in history. These marvels of engineering paved the way for the efficient production and storage of ice, transforming the way we kept food and beverages cool. Let's dive into the intricacies of these ingenious devices that brought a new level of coolness to our lives.

How did people get ice before ice makers?

The Ice Harvesting Process:

Before delving into the mechanics of antique ice machines, it's important to understand the initial step: harvesting the ice! During winter months, blocks of ice were manually cut from frozen lakes, rivers, or large ice ponds. Ice harvesters would use specialized tools, such as ice saws and ice tongs, to extract the ice and transport it to nearby storage facilities, known as ice houses. These ice blocks were insulated with layers of sawdust or straw to minimize melting and preserve the ice for as long as possible.

Mechanical Ice Machines:

The advent of mechanical ice machines in the 19th century revolutionized ice production. These machines utilized various principles and mechanisms to create ice artificially. One popular type of antique ice machine was the "compression ice machine." It operated by compressing and expanding a refrigerant gas, such as ammonia or sulfur dioxide, in a closed system. This process generated cold temperatures, which were used to freeze water in metal molds or plates, forming ice.

The Absorption Ice Machine:

Another type of antique ice machine was the "absorption ice machine." It employed a mixture of water and ammonia or lithium bromide, which was heated to produce vapor. This vapor was then absorbed by a solution, creating a low-pressure environment that caused water to freeze. Once frozen, the ice was harvested and used for various purposes, including preserving food, cooling beverages, and providing comfort in hot climates.

Ice Delivery and Distribution:

Once the ice was produced, it needed to be delivered to consumers. Ice delivery was a common service, with horse-drawn wagons transporting ice blocks to homes, businesses, and even ships. The ice was often stored in insulated iceboxes or ice chests to prolong its usability. These iceboxes had a compartment for storing the ice and another section for keeping perishable items cool. People would typically purchase ice on a regular basis, and ice deliverymen became a familiar sight in many neighborhoods.

How it Impacted Society:

The invention and widespread use of antique ice machines had a profound impact on society. They revolutionized the way people stored and preserved food, eliminating the reliance on natural ice harvesting. With the ability to produce ice artificially, perishable items could be kept fresh for longer periods, improving sanitation and reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses. Additionally, ice became a popular commodity, providing a means for people to enjoy chilled beverages and escape the summer heat–and not much has changed!

The bottom line

Antique ice machines played a pivotal role in the development of refrigeration technology. These ingenious devices transformed the way we obtained and utilized ice, making significant contributions to the preservation of perishable goods. The innovation and engineering behind these early refrigeration systems paved the way for the modern refrigeration systems we rely on today. As we appreciate the convenience of our modern refrigerators, it's important to remember and acknowledge the pioneering efforts of the antique ice machines that revolutionized our ability to keep things cool.

Call us

Interested in anything ice machine related? Need help with your current ice machine, looking for a quote, or on the market for a brand new one? Need some professional insight or help in choosing the right ice maker for your business? Interested in advice, purchasing, maintenance, or anything else regarding your ice maker? Please don’t hesitate to call us here at Tri-Point–we’d love to be a part of your journey. We’re excited to help you along the way, and with regular servicing, we can keep your equipment running smoothly and healthily, while also extending the reach of your dollar.

For a direct line to any of our employees ready on the line to help you, please call…(512) 651-4565 for our Austin, Texas community (806) 686-0050 for our Lubbock, Texas community. Or check out our website at


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