Frederic Tudor and the frozen-water trade.
As far as get-rich-quick schemes are concerned, Frederic Tudor’s dream of developing a global ice business without the aid of artificial refrigeration has to be one of the most unlikely. In 1805, this 22-year-old Massachusetts native convinced himself he could make a fortune by shipping ice from Boston to the tropics. Of course, it was reasonable to assume there would be a market for ice in warm weather locales. But Tudor’s ambitious venture required overcoming a daunting challenge—namely, keeping his product from melting before customers had a chance to purchase it.
For decades, Tudor was ridiculed as he struggled to establish what seamen called the frozen-water trade, suffering through financial hardship, bankruptcy and several stints in debtor’s prison. Year after year, Tudor “harvested” ice in winter from Boston-area lakes and ponds, stored it in icehouses of his own design, and transported it in the insulated cargo holds of sailing ships, sending it to far-flung ports like Havana and Calcutta. In the new book, “The Frozen-Water Trade” (Hyperion), author Gavin Weightman recounts Tudor’s life story—how this fiercely determined entrepreneur ultimately realized his dream, becoming a wealthy man in the process.
The Iceman Cometh
Ironically, when Tudor first came up with the idea of supplying ice to warm weather cities, he was concerned about competitors moving to cash in on his big idea. That concern was alleviated when fellow merchants dismissed him as foolish and crazy. In fact, his concept was considered dangerous, as ship owners worried that ice would damage other cargo or even threaten the integrity of their ship. “Most ships carried a mix of cargo and it was a fear that melt water from ice would ruin anything else stored in the hold,” says Weightman.