(Originally published 4/16/20)
“Every product – every industry – every modern industrial development – has its “story.” The pages may not have been turned back so that he who runs may read and be interested, but the story is there. Perhaps some of our greatest untold romances concern those taken-for-granted commodities which the public sees, uses, appreciates without giving a thought to their interesting origin or the struggles of men in their development.
As an outstanding example – ice.”
This was the opening to an article in the inaugural issue of City Ice Man magazine, first published in March 1925. The article was titled “The Romance of Ice.”
I had been reading up on the history of refrigeration, which was the actual topic of the article. So I read it, as I have now read several other pieces on the history of commercial ice. I don’t know everything, but I do know one thing for certain. I find nothing remotely romantic about ice. But City Ice Man magazine, now that’s another story altogether.
I’d first come across City Ice Man for the book on Waldo. In its April 1925 issue, the article, “Waldo, a Beautiful City of Homes” gave me some great background on 1925 Waldo, and a wonderfully useful photo spread. But the story of the magazine was one I always wanted to revisit. Since then, for other projects, I’ve come across a number of industrial magazines from the first half of the 20th century. They always prove to be a rich source of information on the context of time and place, and for supplying obscure facts, great quotes and wonderful pictures. City Ice Man has all that, with the added bonus of being in a unique position to reflect the time when home-delivered ice was as essential to daily life as electricity, but just a few years before the service would disappear forever.
The industrialization of ice is a longer story that I realized – dating back to the late 1700s when ice was first harvested from great bodies of water (notably New England), then shipped around the world. The switch from harvesting to manufacturing happened in the late 1800s As the process evolved, smaller local ice plants were making it possible to deliver ice to individual homes. The ice box was a staple in every home, commonly in the form of a free-standing wooden locker with one lined compartment for the ice, and the rest for the storage of food. This “technical innovation” served families for generations. Even so, around 1910 inventors were already working on translating the principles of commercial ice manufacture to the residential scale, creating what became the early refrigerators.
But in 1920, home delivery of ice was still the norm, and would be for the most part until World War II. And in Kansas City, the ice industry was doing what it was doing all around the country – consolidating. Local ice companies merged with one another, creating local monopolies. These, in turn were purchased by larger companies; utilities and storage companies were frequent buyers. By the time the demand for home delivered ice was replaced by home refrigeration, what remained of the ice industry was a minor business activity that might not even be contributing to the parent corporation’s bottom line.
As a result of a 1922 merger, the City Ice and Storage Company was born. Their main office was at 21st and Campbell, but they operated numerous ice plants all around the city. City Ice Man magazine was the brainchild of Arthur Hargrave, the post-merger president and managing partner. He used City Ice Man to promote the business to employees, vendors and clients. The first edition of the magazine was the subject of a review in the national industry’s own Ice and Refrigeration Magazine, which started out by noting City Ice was following in the footsteps of other similar magazines put out by companies like Detroit’s General Necessities Corporation, and Chicago’s Consumer Ice Company. Then, after calling the cover of the premiere issue “very pretentious,” the reviewer admits “the magazine itself has gotten up in a very interesting manner,” and goes on to describe some of the articles. The previously mentioned article, “The Romance of Ice,” is one of those. The following are others that fit that “very interesting manner” description.
A Word from the Chief was President Hargrave’s opening address to employees, with mottos and slogans reminding employeees they share in the work and reward of the company’s success. Hargrave closes with, “Put your shoulder to the wheel, side by side with mine, and let us, together, build for the City Ice Company a reputation for fair dealings.”
Articles that might generally be categorized as Home Economics ran throughout the issue. Intended as a regular feature, the first installment in The Department of Economics deals with “The Refrigerator in the Home.” Its tips on product choice, cleanliness and maintenance seem targeted for the consumer, not the employee. But they are informative, if one can imagine a time when the notion of keeping food preserved by refrigeration was still novel. Good Things to Eat promised to be a regular series that offered “original and out of the ordinary recipes of unusual and appetizing dishes” all of which required ice or refrigeration in some creative way. Sadly, none of the recipes for egg lemonade, chicken mousse, iced bouillon or – worst of all – jellied tongue, excite the palate today as they must have 100 years ago. On another kitchen front, an upcoming cake baking contest was promoted repeatedly throughout the magazine. And finally, The Our Pattern Department provided illustrations of dress patterns that could be ordered directly from the City Ice Company.
Company news started with a headline touting the recent EMBA (Employees’ Mutual Benefit Association) Dance as a big success, indicated by the picture caption question, “Doesn’t it seem that everybody was having a perfectly jolly time?” The answer is no – on closer inspection, those present were at best mustering polite smiles. Employee mutual benefit associations were once a popular method of covering wages in the event of worker injury or illness, by way of subscriptions to a common fund paid by member employees. Creating a social component was the company’s way of using an existing program to further employee collegiality.
Among all the offerings in City Ice Man magazine, the worst by far was the column Ice Picks, a motley assortment of quips, quotes and jokes, the best of which were corny or fell flat, and the worst, as read today, are blatantly racist and demeaning.
The best feature by far was “We are Justly Proud of Our Horses.” Four of the company’s horse teams for their delivery wagons were award prizes at the prior year’s American Royal. The occasion was a good opportunity to introduce the horses as part of the City Ice Company family. Horses were mascots of the company, with “Bill” and “Jerry” featured in the magazine’s logo. In the neighborhoods, the ice wagon and its horses were beloved as part of the fabric of daily life. “Out in the resident districts, [the horses] come to know the home of every customer,” the article explains, “and remember with remarkable accuracy those who treat them to a daily lump of sugar.” Residents were asked to put a card in their front window indicating they did or did not want ice that day, the article explains, then adds, “Yet ‘Bill’ and ‘Jerry’ would insist on stopping for just a moment and looking longingly towards the door. They of course could not understand that while the sign said ‘no ice’ it also meant ‘no sugar’.”
There was no ready evidence of how long the company published City Ice Man, perhaps, because as the companies had merged to form the City Ice Company, future mergers and consolidations folded local company magazines and newsletters into one publication for the larger group. These mergers were no doubt good for the companies and their shareholders. Hopefully for the employees as well. But for a while City Ice Man helped knit together the fabric of industrial life in Kansas City, promoting values that benefited the company, but for the most part those that benefit the employees and their families, and the community at large.
(Feature Photo: The cover banner of City Ice Man‘s inaugural edition)
For more quaint expressions of historical behaviors and consumer attitudes, virtually check out the Kansas City Public Library’s online copy of the magazine.