The Ice King - Frederic Tudor, Yankee entrepreneur
Some biographical "snapshots" follow, and at the end of the section four books about the ice industry are listed. The material below has been summarized or excerpted, as indicated, from "Frederic Tudor, Ice King," the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, November 1933 by Henry G. Pearson, 1933. (The link is to the lengthy proceedings.)
Frederic Tudor was a diminutive man, short and very light at 60 odd kilos. Although he was from a wealthy New England family, he was not at all academically inclined. He dropped out of school, according to some reports, as young as 13. The snapshots, which follow, are of him as:
- a courageous, relentless visionary
- an "anti-linguist" and "linguophobe"
- a romantic
- a manager
- arrived - and less visionary
- an industry sage
Frederic Tudor as a courageous, relentless visionary
Frederic Tudor (1783 - 1864) became interested in shipping ice from New England to the Caribbean when he was 22 years old. His brother William had made a factious remark at a party about the "business opportunity" of providing ice from a frozen Boston lake to the sweltering Caribbean. Frederic seized upon the idea and providing ice became his life’s work. He invested $10,000 (over 100,000 € today), some half of which was to purchase a brig, a two-masted sailing vessel. He lost almost half his money on this first attempt. A later attempt in Havana faired better. However fortune did not smile on him and at 28 he wound up in a Boston jail as a debtor.
He tries again, borrowing $3,000 (over 30,000 € today) at the "modest interest" of 40 percent a year. Again disaster strikes, this time in the form of a dishonest agent in Havana. Nevertheless he persists and by the age of 36 the ice trade is making him serious money. But he is not out of the woods yet, as an entry he writes in his journal at the age of 37 shows:
"Still more bad news. . . I am without a dollar, having exhausted every means in my power."
However he prevails and from the age of 40 onwards the ice trade grows steadily, as the chart at the end of these pages shows. His ice trade eventually extends beyond the Caribbean to as far away as Calcutta, India.
Frederick Tudor as an "antilinquist" and "linguophobe"
Given the extent of his international business, and the fact that he knew at least conversational Spanish, his views are hardly what one would expect. He maintains in a letter he wrote in Havana at the age of 40 that knowing more than one language "is sure to injure and corrupt his own native tongue." He continues with a dinner example, at which 40 different nationalities are represented. These include a German contingent of some eight or ten Germans who "are absolute parrots in all the living languages; talking French and Spanish, German and English with equal excellence; that is to say, with no excellence at all, as I judge from their English. . ." He goes on to ask rhetorically why anyone would want to "lower himself" to study foreign languages, at the cost of his own?
Frederick Tudor as a romantic
When he was 49 he fell in love with Euphemia Fenno, who was all of 19. He wrote her at length about his concerns that a thirty-year age gap made marriage questionable. However she was not deterred, and a year later they married. They had six children and a thirty-year marriage, until his death at the age of 80. (She died some 20 years later.)
Frederick Tudor as a manager
He was autocratic and not particularly disposed to "share the wealth," which sometimes cost him dearly, as the "Havana icehouse controversy" shows. A Mr. Damon began running the Havana operation in 1821. At first he received a nominal salary, but eventually rose to become a partner with profit sharing. However, feeling it had taken him to long to make partner, he went out on his own in 1838.
He did this through the clever expedient of renewing Tudor’s special city licenses in his own name. Tudor immediately litigated and the case slowly wound its way through the courts for a full ten years. The cost to Tudor was heavy, as during this period he did not receive revenues from the operation. Eventually in 1849 it landed in the last instance in Madrid, where Tudor had the final victory.
Frederick Tudor arrived - and less visionary
He did not see the potential of ice factories. He had been ready to speculate in commodities. In coffee he wound up losing $200,000 (today, over 2,000,000€). This debt took him over 20 years to clear, which he finally managed at the age of 65.
Upon encountering ice machines three years later, given his age, one would have expected a shrug as someone "above the fray." After all, he was wealthy and dominated the industry. Alternatively, given his expertise, he might have acknowledged the future, or even sought to explore the opportunity. Instead he responded with considerable vigor, not to embrace, but rather to try to kill the new technology.
In 1851 Dr. John Gorrie had obtained a patent for a steam engine driven ice-making machine, funding from Boston investors, and a company to manufacture it. Apparently Frederick Tudor financed a smear campaign against his invention and him personally. The press ridiculed the invention and that, with the death of the lead investor, led the others to withdraw. Dr. Gorrie moved away, and, strapped for funds, waited for a patent for another of his ideas, a method of air-conditioning. He waited in vain, sadly remarking that his inventions "had been found in advance of the wants of the country.” Four years later he died a broken man at the age of only 51.
Frederick Tudor as ice industry sage
When Tudor was 74 years old (1857) he prepared a table showing growth in the tons of ice exported decade by decade from 1806 to 1856.
Year Number of cargoes Quantity -Tons.
1806 1 130
1816 6 1,200
1826 15 4,000
1836 45 12,000
1846 175 65,000
1856 363 146,000
1 The information about Dr. John Quarry and the quote are from the article about him by Minna Scherlinder Morse in the Smithsonian, July, 2002.
There are four standard books in English on ice harvesting. In alphabetical order these are:
Jennie, G. Everson, Tidewater Ice on the Kennebec River, Maine Heritage Series, Maine State Museum. The Bond Wheelwright Co., 1970. Out of print: try www.abebooks.co
Joseph C. Jones Jr., America's Icemen: An Illustrative History of the United States Ice Industry 1665-1926, Jobeco Books, 1984. Out of print: try www.abebooks.com
Carl Seaburg and Stanley Patterson, The Ice King: Frederic Tudor and His Circle, Massachusetts Historical Society, paperback, 2003. Amazon.com for offers it for a little less than $20.
Gavin Weightman, The Frozen Water Trade - A True Story, Hyperion, 2003. Amazon.com offers it for a little less than $20, where some 15 reviews speak favorably of both the book and its main protagonist, Frederic Tudor.
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