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Iced Tea

Square, But Cool At The Same Time.

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When we want a cold drink we seem to take it for granted that we can just put some ice cubes in our glass and the drink is cold.

Block Of Ice Delivered
Tudor Ice Company Delivering Ice | Photo by

Years ago that wasn’t so easy. People had Ice delivered in large blocks and had to have a way to keep them from melting.

For some reason most times I go to the freezer to get some ice cubes the drawer in the freezer is empty. That means I need to take some ice cube trays out and empty them into the drawer so I can put them in my glass. The last time that happened I started wondering who came up with the idea of making small cube of ice handy for use in drinks or anything else.

Dr. John Gorrie’s Ice Machine | Image by Apalachicola, FL Museum

As far back as 1844 Dr. John Gorrie, an American Physician, was working with many patients with yellow fever and needed to find a way to cool his febrile patients. He practiced medicine in Apalachicola, Florida where malaria and yellow fever were prevalent.

Dr. John Gorrie
Dr. John Gorrie | Image by

According to multiple sources, he built a refrigerator to keep the ice frozen to cool those patients.The ice he used was cut from lakes in the northern U.S. that he had shipped to Florida. His makeshift refrigerator was built to keep the ice from melting. In an article written by Mary Bellis on titled “Making Ice cubes, The History of Ice Cube Trays’ she says “Some historians think that Doctor Gorrie may have also invented the first ice cube tray since it was documented that his patients were also receiving iced drinks.”

Strong Memorial Hospital
Old Photo (circa 1960s) Of Strong Memorial Hospital | Photo by

I have an unusual connection to the story of Dr. John Gorrie because back in 1966 I was rushed to the emergency room of Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York from my college dorm room. My roommate and another friend got me there and called my parents. I was only 20-years-old so my parents had to sign for permission to treat me. I had what is called a FUO of Fever of Undetermined Origin of 107 degrees F with no known cause.

Hypo/Hyperthermia Blanket

The doctors needed to cool me down quickly but there were no more of the Hypo/Hyperthermia blankets available because all were in use. The blanket has small connected compartments filled with liquid which is either cooled (what I needed) or heated depending on the patient’s needs. So, they filled a large basin with alcohol and ice cubes,soaked towels in the liquid and covered me with the cold wet towels and adding some ice on top of that. Not cold enough you say. Then they opened the window next to me. This was November in a cold Upstate New York Winter. Obviously I survived but only after surgery to remove a blood clot from my right leg and a 28-day stay in the hospital.

DOMELRE Refrigerator
DOMELRE First Electric Refrigerator | Image by

Ellis goes on to say that a man named Fred Wolfe “invented a refrigerating machine called a DOMELRE, or DOMestin ELecrtic REfrigerator.”  In spite of the fact that it had an ice cube tray in it the DOMRLRE was a failure, but it is thought that it is what inspired other inventors to put ice cube trays in the refrigerators they began to produce.(See image at right)

In 1932 Edwin Newman was issued a patient for his ice cube tray invention. Quoting his patent application “This invention relates to ice trays especially adapted for refrigerators and has for the primary object, the provision of a device of the above stated character whereby the blocks of ice formed therein may be more conveniently removed than in the present types of trays, due to the construction of the tray which will cause an easy displacement of any one of the blocks of ice when pressure is applied near one edge thereof, positioning of the blocks of ice, the block of ice slide slide upwardly in the arc of a circle presenting the opposite edge the block outwardly to the compartment to permit it to be easily grasped for removal from the respective compartment.”

Old Stainless Steel Ice Cube Trays
Old Stainless Steel Ice Cube Trays | Photo by

The first ice cube trays I remember from my childhood were made of stainless steel and had a lever that you would pull to one side to dislodge the frozen cubes from the tray. They were invented in 1933 by Guy Tinkham.

Guy Tinkham
Guy Tinkham’s Grave | Photo by

He was the vice-president of General Utilities Manufacturing which produced household appliances. They were called the MCCord Ice Tray and sold for $0.50 each.

Modern Ice Cube Trays
Plastic Ice Cube Trays Photo by

Today most ice cube trays a are made of plastic or a more flexible material to make it easier to get the cubes out. Many modern refrigerators have ice-making machines in them eliminating the necessity of individual ice cube trays.

So the next time I gripe about not having any ice cubes in the freezer drawer I will think back to those days when having ice of any kind was a luxury.

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