Summary and book reviews of The Frozen Water Trade by Gavin Weightman

The Frozen Water Trade

A True Story

by Gavin Weightman

The Frozen Water Trade
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2003, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2004, 288 pages

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Book Summary

A remarkable book about the long-forgotten North American natural ice industry, which harvested ice and shipped it from Boston to the Carribean, London and even to Calcutta.

In the tradition of Cod by Mark Kurlansky, a remarkable book about a long-forgotten historical phenomenon that changed our world -- the rise and fall of the natural ice industry in nineteenth-century North America.

On February 13, 1806, the brig Favorite left Boston harbor bound for the Caribbean island of Martinique, with a cargo that few imagined would survive the month-long sea voyage. Packed in hay in the hold were large chunks of ice harvested from a frozen Massachusetts lake. This was the first venture of a young Boston merchant, Frederic Tudor, who imagined he could make a fortune selling ice to tropical countries.

Ridiculed from the outset by fellow merchants, Tudor endured years of hardship before he was to fulfill his dream. Over 30 years, he and his rivals extended the "frozen water trade" to Cuba, Charleston, New Orleans, New York, and London, and finally to Calcutta, when in 1833 more than one hundred tons of ice survived a four-month voyage of 16,000 miles with two crossings of the Equator.

Tudor not only made a fortune, he founded a huge industry, which each winter employed thousands of men and horses to harvest millions of tons of ice. Thanks to his astonishing enterprise, iced drinks, chilled beer, and homemade ice cream became essential to the American way of life, and cooled the brows of communities throughout the world long before artificial refrigeration -- after which the frozen-water trade melted away.

In this fascinating book, Gavin Weightman reveals the forgotten story of America's vast natural ice trade, which revolutionized domestic life for millions of people.

Chapter 1
The Frozen Assets of New England

When the brothers William and Frederic Tudor agreed to put together what money they had in the summer of 1805 and invest it in a scheme to sell ice to the West Indies, they held the plan close to their chests. They had dreamed up the idea after spending some pleasant weeks on the family farm, Rockwood, near Boston. It was just a few miles inland from this city, the great port that seethed with shipping and merchants, many of whom had made fortunes trading around the world in all kinds of luxury goods. New England itself had little of value to export: there was no iron or coal or cotton, and the farmland was picturesque but poor. Most of Boston's trade was secondhand: the Yankee merchants had a sharp eye for other nations' goods, which they bought and sold as their ships scoured the world for bargains.

Just to the north, the port of Salem had more or less cornered the market in peppercorns, reexporting in 1805 7.5 million tons of the ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Booklist - Gilbert Taylor

Curiosity about the vanished ice industry energizes Weightman's narrative, a pleasing reminder of a forgotten but once-ubiquitous business.

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] takes a relatively unknown part of history (and the figure at its center), and creates a funny, rollicking human adventure.

Kirkus Reviews

British journalist Weightman brings back the days when an icebox was truly an ice box....A fascinating and vast industry, melted away as completely as an ice cube on a summer sidewalk, but delightfully preserved here.

Reader Reviews

Scott

Mr. Weightman's book is both a delight to read, as well as an extremely useful study in entrepreneurial spirit. I like it so much, in fact, I assigned it as required reading for a class in Entrepreneurship at the university where I teach. Fun, well...   Read More

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