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The Iceman Cometh

Excerpt from 'Port Life' by Seth Rolbein on Frederic Tudor, who imported ice to the tropics in the early 1800s.

"In 1805, just 22 years old, [Frederic Tudor] got it into his head that there was money to be made by sailing ships full of ice into the tropics. Ice had never been seen in the warm parts of the world; refrigeration was almost a century away. But Tudor was convinced that once people got a mouthful of something cool, they'd pay through the nose to get it again. . . .

"[A] crew was hard to come by because prevailing wisdom said that the ice would melt, sink the ship, and drown the men. . . . On the maiden voyage, conventional wisdom proved only one-third right: by the time [Tudor's ship] reached Martinique, the ice was long gone.

"Tudor refused to give up. . . . He tried all kinds of insulation . . . before settling on pine sawdust. The ice began to arrive in the West Indies solid, and at first he would practically give it away to build up demand. . . .

"By 1833, Tudor had sent 180 tons of . . . ice -- around Cape Horn -- to Calcutta, and two-thirds of it had arrived hard. It was the first time ice had crossed the equator, the first time ice had been south of the Himalayas. Locals wanted to know whether it grew on shrubs or trees. And when their purchases vanished in the heat, indignant buyers wanted their money back."

-- From "Port Life," by Seth Rolbein, Boston magazine (November 1991)

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Last updated: Jan 1, 1993

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