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Term: ice harvesting industry in wisconsin


Wisconsin's many lakes provided communities around the state with a natural seasonal business that evolved into a large scale industry, ice harvesting. Small, local ice harvesting businesses existed in Wisconsin as early as the 1850s, but did not become a major industry until the 1870s and 1880s with the increasing demands of brewing and meat packing. During the 1880s, Milwaukee's breweries used more 335,000 tons of ice per year.  Meat packing also required large amounts of ice for the storage and shipment of meats.  Wisconsin was seen as a dependable source of high quality ice, particularly as rapid industrial expansion elsewhere led to increasingly polluted waterways.  Many firms actually organized their own harvesting companies rather than having to rely on independent suppliers and Wisconsin was heavily exploited by competing firms. Lake Pewaukee in Waukesha County became a prime site, used first by Best Brewery, followed by Armour, Cudahy, and the Wisconsin Lakes Ice and Cartage Company. Lakes throughout southern Wisconsin were utilized for ice as long as they had direct access to rail lines. The Madison area was exceedingly attractive to Chicago companies, the first heavy use occuring in Lakes Monona and Wingra.  Ice harvesting sites further from markets or with no available rail access were limited to local markets. Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay were the exception, however, as ice could be economically transported aboard sailing schooners. Competition was extreme and sabotage rampant into the first decade of the 1900s. Refrigeration technology began to replace natural ice harvesting in the 1910s and by the end of WWI, large ice harvesting firms had left Wisconsin.

View pictures relating to the ice industry at Wisconsin Historical Images.

[Source: Wisconsin's Cultural Resources Study Units, Wisconsin Historical Society]
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