… I thought we should talk about ice. This rather serious and bewhiskered gentleman is Frederic Tudor. And I’d like to suggest that he did more for the cocktail industry than almost anyone else in the 19th Century.
Because he pretty much invented the ice trade.
Tudor began his business in 1806, when he was just 23, buying his first brig to ship his first cargo some 1,500 miles from Charlestown to Martinique, and harvesting the ice from ponds on his father’s farm. “No joke,” said the Boston Gazette, when it left town on 10th February. “A vessel has cleared at the Custom House for Martinique with a cargo of ice. We hope this will not prove a slippery speculation.”
As you’d imagine, most of it melted.
But, despite incurring debts so severe that he spent a year in debtors’ prison in 1812, Tudor was onto something. Not least because he had the foresight to secure exclusive rights to supply ice to a number of Caribbean islands, including Cuba.
By 1825, thanks to his supplier Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth, they had figured out how to mass cut ice, improving production, and they’d had nearly 10 years to improve insulation on his ships. By 1833, they were exporting to India. In fact, when the first ship arrived at the Ganges that year, everyone thought it was a joke. But 100 tons of ice survived the journey.
Tudor may not have been the best business man in the world — he lost a bunch of money in the coffee trade — but his insights about the ice business changed the world. Harvested ice was vital for shipping fresh foods west on the burgeoning American railroad system in 1870s. It allowed meats and vegetables to be exported for the first time. And it allowed for cold drinks.
It’s no accident that Tudor’s first successful markets are the party towns of Havana and New Orleans. Nor that India, original home of the gin and tonic, should become one of the biggest importers of arctic ice.
By the time Jerry Thomas opened his first New York saloon in 1851, the ice trade is well established. And without ice, his 1862 book How To Mix Drinks would have been very thin indeed.
Plant produced ice only really begins to supersede harvested ice at the turn of the 20th Century.
So, since you cannot have cocktails without a reliable supply of ice, it stands to reason that Tudor’s ice exporting innovation was a major motor under-pining the bar business.
Alongside the Industrial Revolution, which brought people into cities, created jobs that gave people disposable income and leisure and a desire for novelty for the first time, which in turn led to a different kinds of bars and drinking habits appearing in different ways around the world, ice is critical to modern drinking. You cannot have a cocktail bar without it.
So the next time you order a gin and tonic (India), a daiquiri or a mojito (Havana), a Sazerac (New Orleans), a martini shaken or stirred, hell, even your Campari soda (Turin), tip your glass to Frederic Tudor. Without him and his competitors, the drink in your hand would certainly be different.