By Kathy Kullberg
We all are spending a lot more time in our kitchens these days and enjoying many indoor conveniences. Have you enjoyed a nice cold glass of milk or a cup of ice from your fridge lately; opened the fridge, took out some fresh veggies or frozen fish fillet for dinner? Instant refrigeration only came about as recently as the 1910s. Prior to those days, jumbo cubes of ice were cut in the winter from the nearby crystal clear lakes – Cedar Lake and Bde Mka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun) – and stored in large ice houses, on beds of sawdust, at the north shore of the lake or on Nicollet Avenue. Ice from these lakes was also shipped as far away as Chicago.
The iceman would come round weekly and put that jumbo block into the top storage area of the kitchen wooden ice box. As it melted, the cold air created from the ice would sink down inside the lower cabinet to cool the milk and foods kept there. Kitchens often had a small door located off the back porch that opened into the ice box for easy access. By summer time, the ice stored in the large commercial ice houses would be gone. The demand was high for a better solution for yearlong access and clean sanitary ice.
By 1910, with cheap access to electricity, it was possible to capture fresh sterile water pumped from underground artesian wells and to freeze it into blocks within a large storage facility. The blocks could then be stored indefinitely and delivered on demand to businesses and residences. The Minneapolis Artificial Ice Company built several large facilities close to residential districts. The first one in Minneapolis was built at 402 Lyndale Avenue North. The one we can still see today is located at 2528 Nicollet (The Ice House). In the Wedge, the Minneapolis Sanitary Ice Company built its facility at the southwest corner of 29th and Bryant, just south of the Greenway. (Today and in its place stands a 54-unit, two story apartment building.)
By the end of 1919, The Cedar Lake Ice Company and the Artificial Ice Company controlled all the artificial ice in the city. Modern technology eventually caught up with the industry and the facility on Bryant was no longer viable. Residents could buy a refrigerator that would not only keep products cold but would also make small cubes of ice in a tray placed inside a small freezer compartment, eliminating the iceman’s home delivery job. As a result, the Minneapolis Sanitary Ice Company building was wrecked in 1965.
So next time you enjoy that cold drink on a warm day, try to envision how life used to be before modern refrigeration.