When I was younger and would hang out with my grandmother driving her nuts she would often suggest I go mow the yard, pull weeds, or do some physical work so I could appreciate a good days work. Often I would look in her refrigerator for food and comment that her ice box should be colder. Of which she would reply "You don't know how good you have it Tombo, I remember always scraping and cleaning the ice chest." I would then make some crack about not keeping tabs on the pioneers and from there I was out doing physical hard work. Little did I know the amazing history that was all around me on the Waukesha County lakes.
Before refrigerators most people could have used an ice chest which consisted of a holding compartment, a storage area under the holding compartment that held the ice and it's associated evaporating pans. The ice would be harvested on local Waukesha County lakes in Waukesha County, packed in saw dust, and kept until it was delivered by the ice man. Yes, there really was such a man as the ice man from the ice company. Waukesha County lakes provided communities around the state with a natural seasonal business that evolved into a large scale industry, ice harvesting. Small, local ice harvesting businesses existed in Wisconsin as early as the 1850s, but did not become a major industry until the 1870s and 1880s with the increasing demands of brewing and meat packing.
During the 1880s, Milwaukee's breweries used more 335,000 tons of ice per year. Meat packing also required large amounts of ice for the storage and shipment of meats. Wisconsin was seen as a dependable source of high quality ice, particularly as rapid industrial expansion elsewhere led to increasingly polluted waterways. Pewaukee Lake in Waukesha County was a major ice harvesting site, and was used by Best Brewery, followed by Armour, Cudahy, and the Wisconsin Lakes Ice and Cartage Company. Lakes throughout southern Wisconsin were utilized for ice as long as they had direct access to rail lines. Refrigeration technology began to replace natural ice harvesting in the 1910s and by the end of WWI, large ice harvesting firms had left Wisconsin.
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