Business Is Not Bustling Since The Ice Man Goeth

Business is Not Bustling Since The Ice Man Goeth

From the U.S. Patent Office

No longer does the ice man peddle his wares from a dripping wagon on Charleston streets.

What once was a bustling business, began when schooners from Northern ports brought the first shipment of hard ice here in 1790, has almost disappeared entirely from the Charleston area.

Refrigerators today make the ice needed for home use and therein lies the story of the supply-and-demand downfall of the ice-distributing business.

There are still two or three trucks making house deliveries in Charleston, but even their days are numbered.

The last known ice wagon to roam Charleston streets was retired in 1951 and its hard-working mule sold to John's Island farmer.

Today's ice houses are equipped with ultra-modern machinery and leave little or no evidence of how ice was stored after it arrived here from New England ports.

One of the old houses was at the rear of 182 Meeting St. The walls, five-feet thick and filled with rice chaff for insulation, still stand.

The facility was constructed by the Eureka Ice Co. owned by Henry Bayer. The company apparently went out of business in 1900.

Competition among street dealers was keen and senior citizens here recall the ice wagons racing each other to areas where ice was in great demand.

A Charlestonian is credited with making the first ice-making device.

The initial U.S. Patent for such a device was issued in 1851 to Dr. John Gorrie. He has been working with the U.S. Medical Corps in Appalachicola, Fla. and while treating yellow fever patients, noticed that ice help relieve their fever.

He attempted to produce ice for this reason when he developed his machine. The idea did not prove popular at the time, however, and Dr. Gorrie died penniless after many frustrating years.

During World War II, Charleston's ice plants were forced to ration ice because of military demands.

Ice for home use is now supplied by refrigerators. The only real commercial distribution locally is through an ice vending machine, located at stores and shopping areas.

Ice forming is becoming a decorative art for local caterers. One beautiful downtown hotel offers beautiful ice swans as centerpieces for banquets.

From the yelling distributor to the sophisticated vending machine, and from the awkward, but most welcome block, to the dainty cube, the ice industry has, and probably always be an integral part of Charleston industry.

Originally published in The News and Courier - Charleston Evening Post, March 31, 1970