The challenges of the ice famine of 1906
In August 1906, the average Baltimorean would have better luck watching hell freeze over than finding a place to eat ice cream. An ice shortage had hit the East Coast, affecting New York, Washington and Baltimore. The temperature was up, and the supply of ice was down.
In such times, frivolities like ice cream were the first to go. The manufacture was actually banned in Annapolis, The Baltimore Sun reported on April 12, 1906. But there were more serious consequences. Meats spoiled. Sick people in hospitals burned up with fevers. Fruit sent along the coast in ice-chilled trains was left to rot by the ton. Poorer families watched the food in their iceboxes go bad.
As the Sun reported on Aug. 25, 1906, “The humidity of the night caused suffering alike to those who live in luxury and the thousands sweltering in the close quarters of the tenements.” While the heat might have affected rich and poor alike, the ice shortage did not. Poor people were much more affected by the 10 percent price increase.
Bad luck was to blame for the shortage, according to Wesley Oler, president of the American Ice Company, the monopoly that controlled ice distribution on the East Coast. The previous winter was too short and too warm for a solid ice harvest.
A schooner bearing 1,700 tons of natural ice eventually arrived from Maine. Refrigeration eventually made the American Ice Company obsolete. The company's major plant in West Baltimore now lies vacant.