Temperature disparity meant big business in the 19th century
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The Midwest and East coast are enjoying snow flurries while Los Angeles is baking in a heat wave. Two hundred years ago, that temperature disparity lent itself to a business opportunity.
Author Lauren Redniss’s book, “Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future” looks at the entrepreneur in question:
Frederick Tudor was an early American businessman. In 1805, he had the preposterous sounding idea to harvest ice from frozen Massachusetts lakes, to pack those blocks of ice onto ships, and to send them to be sold in the hottest parts of the world. To most people at the time, to sell ice from New England to people in India sounded just ridiculous. This sounded like a plan to sell air. Tudor’s own father called the idea wild and ruinous.
On his first voyage he sailed to Martinique on a ship full of ice. But when he arrived there was nowhere to store it. So, unsurprisingly, Tudor’s ice melted away before he could make anything close to a profit. In some years, the winter wasn’t cold enough to provide ice to sell. He was thrown in prison for debt, more than once, and apparently on one occasion the creditors were chasing him to the shore just as his ships pulled away.
In 1833 he made his first shipment of ice to Calcutta, and people didn’t know what they were looking at. They thought that maybe this ice had some magic or supernatural or demonic quality. And yet, the ice lasted, and this shipments turned out to be wildly profitable. Today he’s mostly forgotten but in the mid-19th century he was known as the “Ice King” and he was renowned as a visionary.