Crop Failure: The Ice Harvest in 1882

“There is a panic among the ice dealers, brewers, butchers and packers just now,” said the Omaha Daily Bee on January 9, 1882, “and every sort of scheme is being devised to get ice for next season’s use.” Ice was “a necessary article of summer luxury” before the days of refrigeration, and a short ice crop was sure to cause problems for families and businesses.

The Bee said: “This time last year the ice houses were filled and running over while now, nearly the middle of January, only about three hundred tons in all, and that of six inch ice, has been put in, by way of experiment, on the bottom tier by R. Kimball & Co. and Paul Nelson. The damp, warm weather which set in last night blasted all hopes of an ice harvest which might have been entertained a few days ago and all the dealers are now figuring on getting ice the best they can. The trouble is that the weather at the cities all about Omaha is about the same as here, and the nearest known ice supply is at Manitoba.

“Tekamah folks have gathered a good supply of twelve-inch ice, and it is reported that the surface of a lake in that vicinity is frozen to the same thickness. An Omaha firm is looking out for that lake. Mayor [James E.] Boyd has built up additional ice house [capacity], which with the two he had[,] give him a storage capacity of 6,000 tons, the amount he needs. He hasn’t 6,000 ounces yet. His [packing] houses are but 150 feet from the river bank and if ice ever does form he will rustle to gather it in. He has procured a set of ice tools to facilitate business, and Kimball & Co., have three sets.

“Boyd will possibly, in case the ice crop fails entirely, put in one of the cooling machines which blows cold air through the rooms, lessening the consumption of ice three-fourths at least. Such a machine costs about $20,000, and it will only be taken as a last resort. Several parties have been figuring with the C. St. P. M. & O. (Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha] road to lay a track along Cut-Off lake, but the company can’t see it, unless they are guaranteed a certain number of cars and $5 a load. . . .

“There is an immense amount of ice consumed in this city and notwithstanding the amount that was housed last winter the supply was exhausted by September 1st and Blair and Council Bluffs drawn upon. Besides the ice required by brewers, packers, etc., the local trade, by delivery, is very heavy and the Union Pacific alone uses fifteen tons per day.

“There is still a hope that the mercury will go down below zero next month, and there are good reasons to believe that we may yet have plenty of this very necessary article of summer luxury.”

rankin brothers ice works

The Rankin Brothers Ice Works at Cambridge in Furnas County about 1900. NSHS RG3371-3-5

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