Washburn: We live in the best time ever


Columnist Caden Washburn praises the ice machine as a mark of innovation. 

Caden Washburn

In 2013, Disney reintroduced the world to the wacky people of Norway in the hit movie “Frozen.” Of all the strange creatures and powers within this blockbuster, the most intriguing may be the mysterious ice farmers singing the word “na” 39 times. These strapping, young, soon-to-be Vikings worked tirelessly, cracking and carrying large blocks of ice back to Arendelle so princess Anna and Elsa could have their iced teas. However, this strenuous labor market has been disposed of thanks to the greatest invention in the history of mankind: automatic ice machines.

This wondrous freezing device has bestowed upon this generation luxuries that were once allowed to only the best Roman emperors: iced drinks. Also, like the emperors of old, the people of today have been transfixed with their icy gluttony and turned a blind eye towards the demolition of a once-great American industry.

In the 19th century, America boasted a $28 million (1 billion dollars in 2021) industry. The American ice trade was considered a luxury throughout the world and revolutionized the shipping of meats, fruits and vegetables. While these innovations changed the global food supply chain, we must never forget the most important sentiment: people were literally harvesting ice.

People woke up, got dressed, got dressed again (winter gear) and then said to their wives, “Honey, I am off to harvest some fresh ice.” Also, the ice these “farmers” pulled from the lake were not ice cubes, but rather large 18-by-22 inch slabs weighing 250 to 300 pounds. This labor was extremely grueling and would have continued if not for the invention of the automatic ice machine.

These days, when something goes wrong with your refrigeration unit, there is no massive Nordic man with a 300-pound ice block strapped to his back coming to help. Rather, a skinny nerd who comes and tries to explain how a compressor works. This, my friends, is innovation.

The world today has many trials and, yes, of course, tribulations. In the muck of all this funk, it can sometimes be hard to realize the complex machines that were far out of mind just a century ago. So next time you stop to go and get your iced macchiato no cream, take a second to think about how amazing of a time it is to be alive and all the broken backs that the simple machine-making frozen water cubes have saved.