In some cases, before the industrial revolution, nobles and other elites had access to ice in regions where it wasn't naturally available.

How could they get it?

Was it simply transported in big blocks from glaciers to towns and kept (possibly underground) and used quickly? Or were they actually capable of producing ice through some process?

I'm interested in any time before the industrial revolution, and particularly interested in Antiquity or the early Middle Ages.

  • Could you put a rough date for the start of the "modern era"?
    – Rajib
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 12:08
  • @Rajib Changed it to industrial revolution instead :)
    – Juicy
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 12:47
  • 4
    Heh, I read the title as "Ice age before the industrial revolution" and was preparing myself for a very weird question...
    – yannis
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 13:12
  • 5
    "Slaaaave, go get me an icecube." "Yes Master." "Where have you been?" "Britannica"
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 19:56

2 Answers 2


Wikipedia has a video which shows pretty much every aspect.
Firstly the ice was cut from mountains or frozen lakes.

Then it was transported to its destination. Obviously there is a risk of melting during transportation. So there was some sort of insulation like straw or the ice was kept cool by putting snow on it.

At the destination there was a "Ice House" or a "Ice cellar".

Ice cellars worked like this:
Brodley's Icepit
So a underground storage. (The German Wikipedia is quite extensive on the technical stuff if you care about that)

There are reports of Ice Houses existing in Mesopotamia in 1780BC! Those were houses with thick walls to block heat. (Again German Wikipedia has quite some detail on the technical stuff)

To prevent the thermal heat from melting the ice the floor wasn't on the ground but in the air. The space between was covered with insulating material (Straw, Torf, sawdust...)

Both types of storage had somethings in common for example:

  • There were trees with large or many leafs to provide shadowy cover for the normally sun-covered south-side.
  • The entrance was on the north-side.
  • Sometimes there even was a air-gap (Two doors and the second one was only opened when the first one was already closed) to prevent hot air from flowing inwards when taking ice (or putting it in).

Never mind pre-Industrial Revolution. As late as 1910 and 1920 the most efficient way for most people in Toronto and Hamilton to get ice in the summer was for it to be harvested off of Hamilton Harbour (aka Burlington Bay) in the winter and stored in Niagara Escarpmnt cliffs.

enter image description here

Canada in the early 20th century may not have been an industrial powerhouse compared to its southern neighbour, but neither was it a backwater.

This worked pretty much as illustrated in the early scenes of the movie Frozen, it's fairy-tale setting not withstanding.

Also check out the history of ice cream, which long pre-dates the invention of electric freezers:

In the Persian Empire, people would pour grape-juice concentrate over snow, in a bowl, and eat this as a treat. This was done primarily when the weather was hot, using snow saved in the cool-keeping underground chambers known as "yakhchal", or taken from snowfall that remained at the top of mountains by the summer capital Ecbatana. In 400 BC, the Persians went further and invented a special chilled food, made of rose water and vermicelli, which was served to royalty during summers.5 The ice was mixed with saffron, fruits, and various other flavours.
Ice cream became popular and inexpensive in England in the mid-nineteenth century, due to the efforts of a Swiss emigre Carlo Gatti. He set up the first stall outside Charing Cross station in 1851, selling scoops of ice cream in shells for one penny to the public; previously, ice cream was an expensive treat confined to rich people with access to an ice house.

  • 1
    I recall reading that in this time frame, roughly 30% of the exports from Boston Harbor was ice. The ice was used to cool ships loaded with meat heading from Argentina and America to Europe.
    – pokep
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 16:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.