The Frozen Water Trade

“Ice should be given internally. ”

I was startled when I read this prescription in Anandi’s thesis, in the section describing treatments for a fragile pregnancy.

Ice? in India?  During the 1870s? — well before electricity and refrigeration? I had to find out more.

Of course, this tidbit was not entirely new to me. Several years ago, I read a book called “The Frozen Water Trade”, which described the successful venture of one enterprising Bostonian to ship ice to hot cities — initially to New Orleans and Havana; and eventually all the way to Calcutta on the other side of the earth  (then the capital of British India), followed by Bombay and Madras!  Click here to read a brief summary of the ice trade.

So, I knew about blocks of ice that were cut in frozen Massachusetts, wrapped in saw dust and shipped first to Calcutta and then to Bombay and Madras —  surviving well enough for eager consumers to enjoy cold drinks and ice cream during the “ghastly” summers.

But, I had formed the impression that only the British bigwigs in India could afford this rare, precious and short-lived commodity. So, reading about ice in Anandi’s thesis (written in 1886, over three decades after ice was first imported into India)  felt like a deja vu that I had not fully “vue”d.

Further research now turned up this interesting information:

By the late 1870s, “ice-making technology had improved to the point where it was possible to manufacture ice cheaply in India” and “new domestic technologies (ice chests) were developed to store ice in people’s homes.”

This explains, at least to an extent,  the use of  ice in emergency medical treatment by families like Anandi’s — the upper castes/middle classes of Indians.


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