Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Ice Cutting on Bunnell’s Pond, Beardsley Park, 1932-1939

Ice Cutting

“Ice Cutting” was produced for a local Bridgeport Company, The Southern New England Ice Co., which was already over 100 years old at the time the film was made in the 1930’s.  The film depicts an activity that was once essential to city and rural life but today has been replaced by commercial ice production and modern refrigeration.  The ice harvesting industry reached a high point in the United States in the late 1800’s when the U.S. was exporting thousands of tons of ice a year. Due to the manufacture of modern refrigerators for household purposes and industrial ice production, the practice of ice harvesting was actually drawing to a close in the 1930’s, but the techniques were still widely known throughout the Northeast at that time. Northeastern ice companies procured ice from local ponds, lakes, and rivers, insulated the ice blocks in sawdust and straw, stored them in ice houses, and eventually sold and delivered them to individual households and businesses by horse drawn wagon or truck.  Cutters used specially devised saws, poles, and hooks to cut and procure the ice, then moved the blocks through channels, onto ramps and chutes, and then into ice houses for storage or wagons for transportation.  Farmers and other seasonal workers often provided the labor.  Even children performed the essential tasks of clearing snow from the ice (clear ice is slow melting) and cleaning up after the horses.  A February of 1929 “Bridgeport Post” newspaper article reporting on the start of the ice harvest notes that over 200 men would work to cut 60,000 tons of ice from a pond in Bridgeport’s Beardsley Park

It is interesting to note that “Ice Cutting” was filmed during a transitional period for the ice industry that reflected larger changes in manufacturing and domestic life in the United States.  Refrigerators were becoming more prevalent in American households. Yet many people were still using iceboxes and thus required ice delivery.  But even for this domestic application, manufactured ice was becoming the norm.  Purity of product and consistency in availability had become a concern.  Many of the bodies of water used by ice companies for harvesting had become too polluted to produce clean ice.  The Southern New England Ice Company opened its new plant to the public in 1941 with great fanfare and called its facility the “most modern in the country” thanks to special water agitators that purified the water as it froze. (“Times-Star,” May 2, 1941)    An April 30, 1941, “Bridgeport Post” article on the Southern New England Ice Co.’s modern plant exclaims:  “Packaged Ice is Industry’s Way of Keeping up With Modern Age.”   The article explains the prevalence of packaged goods in all households and the need for conveniently packaged ice and consistent product.  In a seeming reversal of today’s consumer’s trends, manufactured ice had become associated with cleanliness, science, and modernity, preferable to anything culled “from nature.”  There may also have been other changes occurring that spurred the use of manufactured ice.  A “Bridgeport Post” article from March 19, 1939, is titled:  “State’s Oldest Iceman Finds Winters Too Mild for Natural Ice.”  The former ice harvester and ice dealer featured in the article regrets that “winters aren’t what they used to be” and the fact that the lack of consistently available natural ice in Southern New England has caused him to deal only in manufactured ice.


HC Librarian
Bridgeport History Center