How'd you like to be the iceman? It was a good gig before refrigeration.
August 24, 2019 10:26 PM   Subscribe

Before the pool boy, mailman or milkman was the working class Lothario, in the time before refrigeration, New York’s ice-delivery men inspired raunchy jokes, songs, and movies (Gastro Obscura). The first song was "How'd You Like To Be The Iceman?" (circa 1899; sheet music from LOC), which lead to a few response records, including "All She Gets From The Iceman Is Ice" (sheet music from UMaine). There were also a few short silent films, released in 1899 and 1900 (IMDb x2), though neither of those appear to be online.
posted by filthy light thief (35 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I looked for jokes about the iceman, as mentioned in the Gastro Obscura article and This Victorian Life's recounting of the time before refrigeration, but I had no luck.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:27 PM on August 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

That's the guy that cometh
posted by bleep at 10:42 PM on August 24, 2019 [43 favorites]

Free Google e-book: Ice Delivery: A Complete Treatise on the Subject, Dealing with Inefficiency by Walter R. Sanders, 1922.

This might come in handy after The Donald annexes Greenland and sells off the ice cap.
posted by cenoxo at 10:48 PM on August 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

There's the hilarious WC Fields The Dentist that starts out with an iceman delivery and contains the line "Keep that Iceman out of here! I'm going to get a Frigidaire!"
posted by eye of newt at 10:49 PM on August 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

While you're away, I'm here to say
There'll be no iceman there.
Singin' the blues, I'm gonna use
Nothin' but Frigidaire.
I'd rather be blue thinking of you;
I'd rather be blue over you
Than be happy with somebody else.

posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:36 PM on August 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

posted by growabrain at 11:38 PM on August 24, 2019

Iceman, I am dangerous.
posted by chavenet at 3:02 AM on August 25, 2019

So uh, that puts a new layer of subtext into Frozen, I guess.
posted by eirias at 3:32 AM on August 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

There were also a few short silent films, released in 1899 and 1900 (IMDb x2), though neither of those appear to be online.

They likely don't exist anymore. We have knowledge of hundreds if not thousands of films that simply aren't around anymore due to fragility of early film stock and/or mismanagement of created resources that weren't seen as needing protection and preservation at the time.
posted by hippybear at 4:33 AM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Showing my age, my cousin wrecked his back schelepping wooden crates of seltzer bottles to deliver in walk-ups, so I'll temper my romanticism of The Iceman with a good dose of capitalist-exploitation reality.
posted by mikelieman at 5:04 AM on August 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

There was a very cute Betty Boop cartoon with an ice delivery man, carrying a gigantic hunk of ice up all the stairs. The ice man was like a young Elvis. I doubt Elvis was old enough yet to be the Elvis we knew though. Dark hair, muscular, one unruly lock of hair falling in his face and Betty Boop was totally in love....
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:07 AM on August 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

Cool story, bro.

My father had two primary careers, one in oil & gas distribution and the other in law. But before both of those he did, well, everything. And one of the things he did was work in an ice house. He cut blocks of ice for delivery to shops. I wish I could ask him more about the song and this story.
posted by grimjeer at 5:11 AM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

For context, here's Buster Keaton's 1937 short "Ditto", in which he plays "The Forgotten Man", an ice man who hasn't quite realized time has passed him by.
posted by jeremias at 5:16 AM on August 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Showing my age, my cousin wrecked his back schelepping wooden crates of seltzer bottles to deliver in walk-ups, so I'll temper my romanticism of The Iceman with a good dose of capitalist-exploitation reality.

This is definitely back. My neighbors get crates (plastic, not wood) of bottled water and other drinks delivered. This is in Germany btw.
posted by starfishprime at 5:28 AM on August 25, 2019

The Romance Of Betty Boop Movie (1985). The hunky iceman appears about 4:20.

Real ice delivery men sometimes were not.
posted by cenoxo at 5:31 AM on August 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

It seems that any man who regularly delivers to homes where the housewife is alone develops some sort of, er, reputation. In Britain it's the milkman (hence the expression "before you were a twinkle in the milkman's eye") and in Japan I believe it's the guy who delivers fish.

The logistics of the ice trade are fascinating and almost completely forgotten now, The London Canal Museum is built over a vast storage well near King's Cross, for ice from Norway which came up the canals from the docks.
posted by Fuchsoid at 5:40 AM on August 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

"In the neighbourhood of the great towns on the shores of the Plata, the number of bones strewed over the ground is truly astonishing. Since our return [to England] I have been informed, that ships have been freighted to this country with a cargo of bones. That cattle should be fattened on turnips manured with the bones of animals that lived in the southern hemisphere, is a curious fact in the commerce of the world. In the East Indies the luxurious drink wine cooled with North American ice, which in its journey has twice crossed the equator!"

--Charles Darwin, _Voyage of the Beagle_
posted by pykrete jungle at 6:15 AM on August 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

My dad grew up with ice delivery in LA in the 1930s. Apparently their iceman had one arm, but had a system of wrestling the ice blocks up onto one shoulder with his one arm and the ice tongs. He used to use that as an example of not giving up. As a kid I remember that actually working on me to make me less lazy, although in retrospect I wonder what that guy’s life was like.
posted by freecellwizard at 6:22 AM on August 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh, man! You didn't say that's by the authors of "DAT AIN'T NO LIE"!
posted by thelonius at 6:33 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Unlike other delivery men, he had to come inside, and ensconcing ice in the box sometimes required chipping away at the block until it fit.
My great grandmother's house had a curbside ice delivery hatch, so the block could be slid directly into the icebox from the back without any opportunity for impropriety. I'm not actually sure if she lived there before or after they put in an electric fridge. It would probably have been in the late '20s or early '30s, in a small town surrounded by farms, so could go either way. But, I can't help but wonder if she made jokes on this topic with her friends. (She was the kind person who would have, I think.)
posted by eotvos at 7:38 AM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

From the Ice Trade (WP):
At its peak at the end of the 19th century, the U.S. ice trade employed an estimated 90,000 people in an industry capitalised at $28 million ($660 million in 2010 terms),[a] using ice houses capable of storing up to 250,000 tons (220 million kg) each; Norway exported a million tons (910 million kg) of ice a year, drawing on a network of artificial lakes. Competition had slowly been growing, however, in the form of artificially produced plant ice and mechanically chilled facilities. Unreliable and expensive at first, plant ice began to successfully compete with natural ice in Australia and India during the 1850s and 1870s respectively, until, by the outbreak of World War I in 1914, more plant ice was being produced in the U.S. each year than naturally harvested ice. Despite a temporary increase in production in the U.S. during the war, the inter-war years saw the total collapse of the ice trade around the world.
More about The History Of Ice (with video and timeline) at the International Packaged Ice Association. We take retail ice for granted at gas stations and convenience stores, but it can be A Necessity During Natural Disasters.
posted by cenoxo at 8:10 AM on August 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Harper Valley PTA lyrics:

Well, there's Bobby Taylor sittin' there
And seven times he's asked me for a date
And Mrs. Taylor sure seems to use a lotta ice
Whenever he's away
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:50 AM on August 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm a volunteer docent at the Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm and my role is the iceman. It's amazing how forgotten this trade is today, most folks are bewildered as to why I'm carrying around ice. It's actually in my script that I'm to flirt with the ironmonger's wife, who has an icebox. Sometimes she bakes cookies.

From the anglophone guests I get a lot of "cometh" jokes. From the Swedes its always "why is there no ice for the punsch".
posted by St. Oops at 8:59 AM on August 25, 2019 [9 favorites]

Somewhere in my dad's garage is a set of ice tongs, the only physical remnant of the family's ice and coal delivery business in a small town in Wisconsin. There's also a photo of a saw attached to a Model T to get the ice out of the lake.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:08 AM on August 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

From The Atlantic, The Stubborn American Who Brought Ice to the World:
Visitors to high-end bars during the last few years have witnessed a renaissance in ice. The cloudy half spheres that instantly melt are gone, replaced with clear ice carved from heavy blocks that hold their backbone longer. The bartenders at these places all seem to have Ph.D.s on the topic, waxing eloquent about surface area and density while charging you $15 for your drink. Those prices are a good reminder that for most of history, ice was an extravagant luxury only for the very rich. Today, machines make ice relatively cheaply so people can enjoy cool drinks and summertime hockey leagues. If you're in Dubai, you can even go downhill skiing indoors.

We can thank technology for the trickle down of many luxuries, but the transformation of ice from luxury to necessity largely occurred before the widespread availability of refrigeration. One man in particular, the Boston businessman Frederic "The Ice King" Tudor, engineered the change during the first half of the 1800s. Known for his pigheadedness as much as his marketing savvy, he revolutionized both the ice trade and the way we live.
The original cool dude.
posted by cenoxo at 9:26 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

During the time I lived in Birmingham, England I got to see a fair bit of remaining Victorian ice-tech. There was the remains of an ice-cellar in the Moseley Park and a number of homes in the area that had ice cellars and little narrow cooling canals that ran through their back gardens. It was really quite amazing just how much these little canals that were just the merest of trickling stream equivalents - rock walled and bottomed but no more than a foot across and just a couple of inches deep - but which were down in much deeper grassed over earth trenches - cooled the air in the trenches. It was a great relief during the Moseley Open Garden Days when I got to see them during an unusually sunny and warm summer day. I thought it was pretty fascinating small scale climate engineering.
posted by srboisvert at 9:38 AM on August 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

This Iceman, he fixes the cable?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:47 AM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

My maternal grandfather delivered ice and coal in Saginaw back in the day, from 1937 - ~1943, and was young when he did this work, 16 to 22 years old. He left when he married and moved to Flint. My understanding is that how he met my grandmother, from delivering these things to her uncle's home, which was where she lived.
posted by droplet at 11:31 AM on August 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

I was just remembering the scene in Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress where the father talks about the dog drinking from the drip pan under the icebox.

And that led me to remembering that the Kramdens had an icebox on The Honeymooners in the 1950s, and that Ralph once hid a present for Alice in the drip pan. Danged if I can remember if he got it back out before it got too wet.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:32 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:12 PM on August 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Three Stooges deliver ice in "An Ache In Every Stake" (about 3 minutes in.)
posted by Marky at 12:55 PM on August 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

As part of the 29th Annual Bisbee, Arizona 1000 Great Stair Climb coming up October 19, 2019, firemen in full gear and civilians (YT from 2015) will run in the Ironman Ice Competition.

They grab a 10 lb. block of ice using antique ice tongs, carry it with their arms (and/or on their back), then hopefully “...sprint up 155 stairs, dash across a trail, zoom down a steep winding road to an exhilarating finish. Approx. 1⁄4-mile total.

If they make it to the finish line, at least they’ll have something to cool down with.
posted by cenoxo at 2:11 PM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

My grandfather was an iceman back in the '30s.
posted by Billiken at 8:50 AM on August 26, 2019

Modern icemen: 'The hardest job at the state fair: We are talking about the icemen. They are the keepers of cold, the lifeblood of freshness, and the kings of quench.'
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 7:09 PM on August 31, 2019

17-year-old Ryan Jordan who has hauled ice for 7 years.

A ten-year-old kid hauling 900-lb. carts of ice?!?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:18 PM on August 31, 2019

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