Ice Harvesting - G.H. Hammond Meat Packing
Hammond, Indiana


I. Cutting the Ice

  “These are the ice-cutters. No pleasure-seekers these, no makers of festivals, no chevaliers of the ladies but journeymen of nature, laborers who win bread from the fiercest moods of winter, who brave death itself to wrest from the gnomes of the frost the refreshment of thousands while the dog-star rages and the great cities faint under the merciless noon.”

                – From “A Day on an Ice Field” from
Demorest’s Family Magazine, 1894


  Freezing winter temperatures meant one thing to the people of Hammond in 1894:  jobs! Hundreds of men and younger boys who were willing to face the winter conditions, were employed to cut, move and store large chunks of ice taken from Wolf Lake in Hammond.

The work was not only difficult, it was also dangerous. Slipping, falling, freezing, the manual labor was required to get the job done. Hundreds of part time workers contributed to the success of Hammond meat packing business and the ice box rail cars needed to ship meat hundreds of miles from the Hammond site.

The ice harvest industry continued until the introduction of refrigeration. Until that time, most families had an 'ice box" in their homes to keep foods cold until they were consumed. The "Ice Man" would bring his rig through neighborhoods, dispensing chunks of ice for the home.  Children would run after the vendor begging for pieces and flakes of ice during the hot summer months.

"They waited until the ice was at least a solid eight or nine inches thick, preferably more, so it would be sturdy enough to support dozens of men and their workhorses. The ice men prayed for the weather to be cold and clear—any snowfall insulated the ice like a soft blanket, slowing down the freezing process and reducing the quality of the ice. It was often late January before the ice was ready for harvest. The ice field was first cleared of any snow, and horses were hitched up to etch the ice into a grid pattern. Then, the cutting and sawing began. Ice blocks, or “cakes,” were cut in uniform sizes—often two to three feet long and a foot and a half wide, ranging in weight from 80 pounds up to 190 pounds each, depending on the block’s size and the composition of the ice. A channel was cut in the ice field, meandering from the ice house to the work space, and the cakes were floated—pushed by long poles—along the channel to the shore near the ice house..."

"The Ice-Man Cutteth: Remembering Michigan's Winter Harvest", FOUND MICHIGAN



Wolf Lake Ice Cutters 1924


Army of workers take to the ice at Wolf Lake.


Hammond innovation applied itself to the development of a motorized ice cutting machine.


Men and horses work together to harvest ice.
(Knickerbocker photo file)





"It’s almost absurd nowadays to think of ice as a crop, with its own short harvest season, like asparagus or strawberries.
But at the turn of the 20th century, before refrigerators and ice-makers and bagged ice at the liquor store, hand-harvested
ice from America’s northern lakes was a vital resource. For nearly a hundred years, this so-called “natural ice”
was pretty much the only ice used anywhere — for shipping perishables, storing meat and dairy, even making cocktails or ice cream..."
Source: Ibid.

II. Storing the Ice


  Commercial businesses relating to the cutting and storage of ice, thrived in Hammond, Indiana, and throughout the developing cities of the northern USA in the early part of the 20th century. Among the largest was Knickerbocker Ice that furnished the large investment in building ice storage facilities. Hammond also had investments from the Knickerbocker company. This etching is from one of their New York facilities but designs were similar to the one used by the G.H. Hammond Meat Packing business.

Using ice from Wolf Lake and the refrigerated rail ice cars from Pullman  Standard, these two elements contributed to the success and profitability of Hammond meat packing industry.


Workers cut ice on Wolf Lake for storage.


Photo from the top of the ice ramp looking down at the workers at Wolf Lake.


  An illustrated view inside the ice house showing the labor intensive assignments for receiving and storing the ice. The supervisor stands at the left near the entry way as slabs of ice enter the building. They are sorted and stacked for storage, then retrieved when need by the rail cars shipping dressed meats from Hammond to the East Coast. Sometimes sawdust was used to keep the ice from melting and acted as insulation.  Months later, ice would still be available long after the lake ice had disappeared under the rising temperatures.  

III Shipping the Ice



Loading ice from the top of refrigerator cars at Wolf Lake.


Loading ice box cars from the side.


  A new ice car rolls off the assembly line in Hammond, Indiana  

Delivery of ice to homes by the local ice company.