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The Ice King


Frederic Tudor, the third son of a wealthy Boston lawyer, hatched an idea one summer day as he reflected on the ice clinking in his glass. He knew that not everyone could enjoy the luxury of a cold drink on a hot day. His brother joked that they should ship ice from their pond in Massachusetts to the West Indies.

The improbable idea stuck. In 1806, Tudor sold his first load of ice to wealthy Europeans in Martinique. He expanded his shipments to include the southern United States, India, China, and Australia. By the 1830s, Tudor was shipping tons of ice all around the world. He made a fortune in the “frozen water trade,” and became known as The Ice King.

Ice was highly valued on the frontier, but the Ice King did not ship to the Great Plains. The pioneers were on their own when it came to ice. On this date in 1900, the Griggs Courier of Cooperstown ran an article about the best insulation for ice houses. The article recommended eel grass. A house built in 1653 used eel grass in the walls for insulation. When examined in 1898, the house continued to be protected against the weather and the grass was proven to be in a “state of perfect preservation.” But eel grass was to be found along the Atlantic Coast, not on the Great Plains. Pioneers had to find another way to preserve ice into the summer.

At Fort Abercrombie, north of present-day Wahpeton, the soldiers built an ice house. The Red River provided the ice, but it was hard work to harvest it. They cut the ice with large saws, then harnessed horses to the blocks and hauled the ice to the ice house. The blocks, sometimes weighing as much as 300 pounds, were packed with sawdust from the fort’s sawmill.

Today we don’t think anything at all about taking ice cubes from the freezer for a glass of lemonade or iced tea, but for the early pioneers of North Dakota, there was nothing easy about keeping food cool in an ice box or having a cold drink on a hot day.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.


Griggs Courier. “Insulator for Ice Houses.” Cooperstown, North Dakota. 5 July, 1900.

Mental Floss. “The Surprisingly Cool History of Ice.” "http://mentalfloss.com/article/22407/surprisingly-cool-history-ice" http://mentalfloss.com/article/22407/surprisingly-cool-history-ice Accessed 31 May, 2017.

Fort Abercrombie Archives.