Object Matters: IceThe cool history of a hot commodity.

Object Matters: IceThe cool history of a hot commodity.

Ice as a natural element has been a fixture on earth for about 2.4 billion years. Ice as a commodity is a more recent phenomenon.

For centuries, ice was a luxury reserved for rich estate owners and used for food preservation rather than refreshment. That all changed in 1805, when a young Frederic Tudor was enjoying ice cream and cold drinks at his well-to-do Boston family’s summer party and began musing about how colonizing forces in the West Indies would envy his refreshments.

Tudor became fixated on the idea of making ice into a commodity. His initial scheme was brilliant in theory, but it proved disastrous in execution: He decided to transport ice from the pond of his family’s country estate to a place where people had never seen it—the Caribbean. Packed in straw for insulation...

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