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Updated 10:00 AM June 21, 2004



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The iceman cometh to U-M

No air-conditioning, frozen or refrigerated foods, iced drinks or ice cream. That's just a sampling of how drastically different our lives and diets would be if there was no refrigeration.

A sign for ordering ice, which is included in the exhibit at Clements. (Courtesy Clements Library)

"It was not so very long ago," says Janice Longone, curator of culinary history at the Clements Library, "that meat was preserved primarily by drying or salting, milk could be preserved only in the form of butter and cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables were only available seasonally in areas where they were grown."

And then came ice and icehouses, followed by mechanical refrigeration. It is that history of American ingenuity that Longone illustrates in the exhibition "The Iceman Cometh—and Goeth" through September at the Clements Library.

"Throughout history, the wealthy and powerful had icehouses and ice available to them in limited quantities," Longone says. "But it took that American ingenuity to make ice available to all."

The exhibition explores the history of the American ice industry, from New England pond ice harvesting to the introduction of mechanical refrigeration. It includes:

• The story of the "Ice King," Frederic Tudor, and his collaborator, Nathaniel Wyeth

• The 1803 book by Thomas Moore, "An Essay on the Most Eligible Construction of Ice-Houses"

• The tools, equipment and methods of natural ice harvesting and its distribution, including the successful arrival in 1833 of a ship carrying ice from Boston to Calcutta that crossed the equator twice

• The manufactured ice industry and how it revolutionized food and eating in America

• Introduction of mechanical refrigerators, with the millionth Frigidaire sold by 1929 and millionth General Electric refrigerator by 1931.

Longone, a food historian, will present a lecture on the history of the ice industry 3-5 p.m. Sept. 19 in the Clements Library.

For more information call (734) 764-2347 or visit

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