Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ice Box

This week we will be running an article written by our former Executive Director Jamie Martin in May 2013 in honor of our upcoming Ice Cream Social.  It is much simpler to make and cool our delicious treats now than it was then.
On the porch of the Grandma’s Kitchen exhibit there is a large wooden box. It’s made of oak and is pretty plain to look at. If you didn’t read the sign you might think it is just a cabinet. It is a “New Iceberg” made in Sheboygan, WI and donated to the museum by Dan and Polly Stevens. This is how people kept food cold before there were refrigerators.
            Iceboxes such as this one were invented between 1850 and 1860. Iceboxes are hardwood cupboards with inner linings of tin or zinc insulated with material such as cork, sawdust, rice husks, straw or seaweed. They are built to hold blocks of ice on the upper shelf which allows cool air to flow through the food and drink cupboards below. Water was collected in a drip pan at the bottom and needed to be emptied daily.
To replenish the ice the family would hang an ice sign in the window above the icebox. The sign had different amounts on it. The amount that was placed at the top is the size of ice block that the iceman would deliver. During the hottest part of the year they might have to deliver several times a week. Those early icemen used a horse and wagon to transport ice so they had to work quickly to keep the ice from melting. They often wore a leather vest to protect them from the ice blocks and a large pair of ice tongs was used to grip the ice. It was a back breaking job but it did have its rewards. The iceman was always a favorite with local children. During the summer children would follow the ice wagons in the hopes that the iceman would have a broken block to share with them.
Originally ice was harvested from ponds and lakes. It was a labor intensive and dangerous process. Workers first scraped the snow off ice that was six to thirty inches thick. They had to be careful that the ice did not have any weak spots where the men or horses could break through. Then men then measured grids on the ice and horses pulled a tool that cut grooves on the grid, usually 22" x 32" or 44" square. The larger the block of ice the longer it would take to melt in the icehouse but the larger size also made it harder to move. The next step was to cut through the grooves, with an ice saw, until the blocks broke off. The blocks of ice were then hauled to the ice house where they were stored in sawdust to keep them insulated so they would not melt. By the early 1900’s Junction City was beginning to see commercially manufactured ice. According to an ad run in the Junction City Union April 5, 1921 by Christensen & Beeler the first ice plant in Junction City was the Ice Light & Railway Company built in 1902.
During the early 1900s electric refrigerators started to emerge as a new storage option. Some early refrigerators used ammonia as a coolant. Ammonia can be toxic so it was not a popular option in most households. Refrigerators didn’t gain in popularity until the 1930’s when Freon was introduced as a cooling agent.  By the 1940s they were common in homes and the ice box and the industry surrounding it was becoming a thing of the past.
Sunday September 18th from 3-6 PM the Geary County Historical Society invites you to join us for our Annual Ice Cream Social.  There will be live entertainment as well as a cake walk. The museum will be open at 1:00 pm and we look forward to visiting with you.

Photo courtesy of the Geary County Historical Society