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The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story Paperback – February 4, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Weightman, a London journalist and documentary filmmaker, uncovers a secret history and ends up transforming a dull-sounding topic into a riveting read. He introduces turn-of-the-19th-century Bostonian Frederic Tudor as an indefatigable American dreamer who sought to give people something they didn't know they wanted-and make a killing while he's at it. Tudor hatches scheme after scheme to "farm" ice from New England ponds and deliver chunks of the brand-new commodity to the Caribbean, and ultimately to India and elsewhere, so that items like cold beverages and ice cream become cultural staples. Along the way Tudor encounters disbelievers, creditors, rivals, imprisonment, yellow fever, warm weather, political scuffles-even pirates. Weightman also delves engagingly into the science of freezing and the particulars and economics of ice transport and storage. Through it all, Weightman juggles the players in the burgeoning but finally ephemeral business while he spins a tale of a pre-refrigerated world. Issues of commerce and entrepreneurship in an infant nation are revealed in this page-turner, which gets its title from the name of the industry. When Weightman visits Tudor's original ice source, locals think the author is loony for suggesting that cubes from the pond cooled people in Calcutta two centuries earlier-and made one man (and perhaps many others) rich in the process. Weightman takes a relatively unknown part of history (and the figure at its center), and creates a funny, rollicking human adventure.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

The idea sounds fanciful: harvest ice in Massachusetts and sell it to people in the tropics. But the nineteenth-century entrepreneur Frederic Tudor was immune to ridicule and single-minded in his conviction that the ice trade could be profitable. He was also right. This entertaining history of his crusade to turn New England into the world's ice-maker shows how the combination of technological innovation and sharp marketing—Tudor trained bartenders to use ice in cocktails in order to illustrate the virtues of cold drinks—created an industry that sold thousands of tons of ice a year to places like India, Cuba, and the American South. As a case study of the entrepreneurial mind, Weightman's book reminds us that creating demand can be as important as meeting it.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books (February 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786886404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786886401
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #393,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It was necessary to add the subtitle to the book _The Frozen-Water Trade: A True Story_ (Hyperion), as in it, Gavin Weightman has told a tale that stretches credulity. How can we have almost completely forgotten an industry that employed thousands, created millionaires and monopolies, and sent an American product around the world, changing forever the way people dined and drank? Oh, the answer is artificial refrigeration, but before that there was the commercial ice trade, and before that, people simply did not have ice cream, mint juleps, and fresh fish that could keep in the markets. Beyond being an exposure of a surprisingly secret history, this book is the story of an entrepreneur, Frederic Tudor, who may never have heard the phrase "Find a need and fill it," but who did just that, showing commercial ingenuity and perseverance that ought to make this a textbook case of American business acumen.
Tudor, born in 1783 to a wealthy Massachusetts family, was more interested in making his fortune than in getting an education, and dropped out of college. On a trip to Havana in 1801, he discovered that it was hot, and that no one would sell you a cool drink, for there were none to sell. But at home in New England, they had ice on ponds and rivers every year, ice that uselessly froze and then melted as the seasons changed. The ice was mostly a nuisance, restricting river traffic, and there were tons and tons of it. Tudor merely had to get it from cold lands to hot. This, of course, was the problem, a problem solved with Yankee ingenuity in design of ice houses and ice cutters and of insulation for cargo ships. He went through bankruptcy, incarceration for debt, and a mental breakdown in making his dream become a reality.
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Format: Hardcover
The indescribable heat of summer in Calcutta was especially oppressive for officials of the British Empire, accustomed as they were to cooler weather at home, and when word reached them in September, 1833, that a ship carrying ice from Boston had arrived at the mouth of the Hooghly River, many regarded this as a huge practical joke. The temperature that September day was over 90 degrees, and any ice from New England would have had to be cut from rivers or ponds at least six months earlier. No such shipment of ice had ever been attempted before, and the journey from Boston to Calcutta would have taken 120 days, even if the weather had been good. How could ice possibly survive so long without refrigeration in the hold of a ship? Nevertheless, fifty tons of ice were soon unloaded and sold to the astonished British inhabitants.
For Frederic Tudor the successful shipping of this ice to Calcutta in 1833 was the culmination of a thirty-year dream. A "diminutive, pig-headed Bostonian," he had dropped out of school at thirteen and had been seen as a family maverick, always doing something different from what was expected. Boston financiers refused to help him finance his wild dream of shipping ice to the tropics, and it was Frederic's own family and connections which had to subsidize his initial experiments in 1806, when, at age twenty-two, he made his first shipment of "frozen water" to Martinique. By selling an easily available, free commodity--ice from New England's frozen rivers and ponds--to other parts of the world, however, Frederic Tudor eventually became one of the great American entrepreneurs of the nineteenth century, ultimately earning a long-term profit of almost a quarter of a million dollars in the Calcutta trade alone.
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Format: Hardcover
Weightman presents the story of refrigeration from the first ice houses to the development of the home refrigerator. The proponent behind this business was Frederic Tudor of Boston. Although the wealthy of Europe had had small ice houses for the storage of ice harvested from lakes and pond, those structures were small and relatively costly. Tradition required that the ice house be below grade or at least have one wall below grade.
In about 1805, Tudor decided that a profitable business could be created by harvesting ice from lakes and rivers in New England and shipping it to tropical climates for sale. He began in the West Indies, expanded to Havana, and eventually Southern US and India. Along the way he developed inexpensive ice house designs, techniques to pack the ice for shipment at sea, and marketing techniques to educate customers on uses like cooled beverages and ice cream. One of his associates, one Nathaniel Wythe, developed a horse-drawn ice plow that automatically marked off the width of the blocks. This made ice harvesting much more efficient and facilitated uniform blocks that made it easy to store the ice efficiently.
It spite of the accuracy of Tudor's vision, the path to success was not an easy one. Ships were lost or delayed. Ice houses were not ready. His early ventures were only marginally successful. He was frequently in debtors prison or fearful of being caught by his creditors. Tudor succeeded only by sheer determination in the face of opposition.
Techniques were also developed to thicken the ice. Once ice was thick enough to support weight, holes were bored to allow water from below to cover its surface. This made it possible to freeze ice up to 12 inches thick.
The ice business fit nicely in Boston.
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