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The Ice Crop of 1881

From the The New York Herald of March 20, 1881

The Companies, Their Capital and Work
Where and How the Trade is Conducted

The ice trade begins already to be active -- that is, in what ice dealers term the "vault trade," or the purchase and stowing away of ice by the largest consumers and retailers. The Knickerbocker Ice Company does a much larger business than any other, and, perhaps, as much as all the other companies together. The company's principal office, in Canan street, resembles in extent and in the number of desks and persons employed a large banking house. Its capital is $2,000,000. Mr. Maclay is the president. As a corporation it dates its existence from 1855. Some of the same persons who organized it and remained active members had then carried on the business for a long time. Thus the lusiness has grown up from a foundation dating back many years. The company has housed about 1,400,000 tons of ice this season. This is twenty-five percent, or thereabout, more than was ever before cut in one year. The impression is that the total crop housed for the use and trade of New York and Brooklyn will amount to 2,000,000 or over. This includes that which has been cut by all the companies and individuals in the trade, and that which the residents along the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie to Troy have housed. Of the 1,400,000 tons stacked by the Knickerbocker Company, a part has been disposed of already. There has been a large early trade, mostly with the brewers, who store the ice in their own vaults.

About one hundred thousand tons were taken from Rockland Lake. Boats were kept running nearly all the month of February, and a hundred barges were freighted from that place. Mr. Ballantine, of the Knickerbocker Ice Company, prizes the Rockland Lake ice as the clearest, hardest, purest and best in the world. From Lake Mehlich at Verplanck's Point 50,000 tons were taken. The rest was obtained from the Hudson, on both sides, and all the way up the river to Albany.


Large as the crop stored this winter is the company thinks it will not last two years. So that if next winter should be very mild, and if no ice should be cut here, the companies and dealers would have to supply the market from places abroad, as they had to do last year. The waste is very great from the time the ice is cut to its delivery to customers. This wastage is said to be about fifty per cent. There is some shrinkage in the storehouses, though no much. The great loss is in moving the ice, first to the "bridges" or landing places, along the river in the city, and then to customers.

Ice dealers study the seasons closely. They keep a record of the alternating severe and mild winters. Looking over this record, a gentleman in the Knickerbocker office said that what he termed the good and bad years had followed each other pretty regularly since 1870, that year being a good one for housing ice and 1871 bad, and so all along except a break in the alternating chain once, which brought a bad season in 1880, there being a failure then. Upon this theory there should be little ice in 1882. Possibly the theory may be accepted as a convenient one to keep up the prices of ice in a year of abundance.

A great deal was shipped from Norway to this country last year, and was considered of excellent quaility. The Knickerbocker company bought a large quantity of it. Halifax, St. Johns and other places in British America made considerable shipments, but the ice was inferior, except that from ports north of the St. Lawrence. Maine sent some which was hardly equal to our North River ice. Boston is usually supplied with ice from the Kennebeck and other rivers of Maine.

In reply to the question as to the probable charge per ton for the ice the coming summer the company's officers said, somewhat uncertainly, that the price to retailers at the "bridge" or wharf, might be from $2 to $2.50 a ton. This, however, would be regulated by competition and other circumstances. The price would be $3 to $4, or twenty cents a hundredweight, when delivered to customers along the streets. It would depend partly upon the quantity taken, and was not likely to be over twenty cents a hundred if delivered in large quantities, as to butchers, fish dealers, and others. The charge to families had not been determined, but might be a little advance of that to people in trade. After all, the retail ice dealers had most to say in this matter of price to families. The probability is that it will be lower than every before.

Latterly the shipment of meat to foreign countries, principally to Europe, has used up a considerable quantity of ice, and the demand for this purpose increases. Some steamships take sixty tons or upward in enormous refrigerating boxes to preserve the meat. The dimensions may be imagined when it is understood that a cubic foot of ice weighs sixty pounds.

The Knickerbocker establishment, at the foot of West Twentieth street, covers a vast area. Think of 500 wagons, 1,000 horses and 2,000 men or more employed, and the extent of ground occupied can be imagined. The average pay of the man is $1.50 a day.

Proper attention to delivery, or what is called good service to families, it is claimed, deserves and justifies a little higher price for the ice. It is expected that the demand in general will be greater this year than heretofore. Butter dealers, who are using more and more in their refrigerators, are among the best customers.

Transcribed by Megan Springate, 1.24.2004


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