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When iceboxes were cool

Crystal Ice delivery truck
1940s Crystal Ice delivery truck in Phoenix, AZ. Typically the floor of the truck would be littered with ice chips. This iceman appears to be using something similar to a log carrier rather than the big tongs I saw being used in Oklahoma City.

Before electric refrigerators were introduced, Americans used iceboxes. Those of you more than a few years younger than I probably never had one and frankly, I don’t particularly remember the one my family had. What I do remember is the iceman who delivered the big blocks of ice that cooled the ice box contents. He’d park at the front curb, open the back of his truck and, wielding giant tongs, grab one of the ice blocks. He’d sling it over his shoulder, which was covered with some sort of padding, and take it inside. While he was inside, I’d stand at the back of the truck, eating ice chips from the floor. (Hmm, how sanitary was that?) Quite a treat in the middle of an Oklahoma summer in the days before air conditioning.

Well, long story short, I once told one of my siblings about the iceman and the ice chips and was promptly assured that I must be imagining the whole thing because I’d have been too young at the time — if, in fact, I’d even been born.

I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about memory, tricks of memory, misremembering things from the past, etc., and I recalled the ice chips story. Had I imagined it? Perhaps only read about it? Just seen some pictures? I’d tried before and failed to find any information about home ice deliveries in Oklahoma City in the 1940s. But yesterday I came across a website called Ice Box Memories. On the off chance that someone might actually be tending the site, I fired off a note asking if they could supply any information. They did. And it seems that in all likelihood I did eat those ice chips. Hurray!

In this early photo, an iceman using tongs carries a block of ice on his shoulder in the manner I recall. (Image: Ice Box Memories)

Here’s the letter (and yes, I forwarded it to all my siblings):

Hi Susan!!

You’re not imagining it!!  It’s very likely you DID experience getting the chips of ice from the iceman!!

That said – we are thrilled you found us on the Internet!  It’s people like you with your questions/memories that are the reason we have our Web page – to keep the memories of the Iceman alive!!  Thank you for finding us.

When I read your question to my husband, he said “Of course she did….I did too and I was born in 1948!!”  He then reminded me that when he was 5 years old, he would ride along with an Uncle who delivered ice to homes and restaurants around Springfield, Massachusetts in a truck. He remembers the chips of ice his uncle would give to the kids along the route too.  He also told me about how he remembers going to the Springfield Ice Company (where his uncle got the ice to distribute) and picking up and playing with more ice chips and the “snow” (the result of the cubing process) and making/throwing snowballs in the middle of summer.

Ice deliveries across the USA were still going on until shortly after the end of WWII – late 1940s to the early 1950s.  Once the war was over, metals that were banded from consumer use during the war were again being used in the making of refrigerators and other household appliances.  (That is a whole other story about how the war impacted appliance making in the USA!) The 1950s were the time of the house-building boom and blossoming economy due to the war being over and the men returning home from the war and starting families. Electricity was the way to go!!

The icebox had started going away as early as the late 1930s in bigger cities (NYC and Chicago). The 1950s saw  the real end of the icebox era…..tho there were holdouts.  Speaking from my family’s ice business perspective, the last home delivery my Dad’s company made was in the early 1970s. One little old lady refused to have an “electric icebox” in her house… was only when she died that we closed the home ice delivery book. (My husband worked for my Dad’s company and remembers delivering ice to her house.)

(BTW: We had an icebox in our house until that time I was in high school. My sisters and I complained it was embarrassing to have an icebox…but Dad insisted that the ice was free so why pay the electric company for making food cold the same an the icebox did!!  (The ice delivery man would come every 4 to 5 days to replenish the block of ice)  Between us sisters and my Mom – who wanted an electric refrigerator for many years, Dad finally relented and we got a Frigidaire. Of course for as long as I can remember, we always had a freezer out in the garage holding ice cream and frozen meats, etc.)

I just searched the Internet for your city’s ice companies,  (LINK:   ) and it seems there are still quite a few.   So I suggest, if want to really verify which company it may have been, call your library. They have a research dept and probably have the pre-curser of the yellow pages or phone book from the 1940s.  We call those old books City Directories. Ask them to sent you a list of Ice Companies that were in business in 1943-48.

And if your library can’t help you – we suggest you contact your Historical Society- they should also be able to give you info.

But YES – it is very likely you got ice chips from the iceman – be it from a truck or wagon.  (And that depends on how “modern” Oklahoma City Ice companies were back in the early 1940s – did they still have horse teams?  Maybe – who knows!)

We are very happy you found us…..and we hope we were able to back-up your “memories”.
Stay COOL-

Thomas and Gail (Hogan) Lucia

I am tempted to think, imagine, or hope that some of the ice deliveries I recall were via horse-drawn wagon — not impossible in a city my mom often derided as “an overgrown cowtown” (her native Cedar Rapids, Iowa, being so much more sophisticated). However, given my childhood infatuation with horses, I must assume that had there been horses, I’d have spent my time at the front of the wagon instead of at the back scavenging ice chips.

P.S. Don’t miss my follow-up additions/corrections to this post.

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