Frederic Tudor

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Frederic Tudor
Born September 4, 1783(1783-09-04)
Boston, Massachusetts
Died February 6, 1864 (aged 80)
Boston, Massachusetts
Resting place King’s Chapel cemetery, Boston (originally)[1]
Other names “Ice King”
Known for established the Tudor Ice Company
Spouse(s) Euphemia Fenno

Frederic Tudor (September 4, 1783 – February 6, 1864) was known as Boston‘s “Ice King”, and was the founder of the Tudor Ice Company. During the early 19th Century, he made a fortune shipping ice to the Caribbean, Europe, and even as far away as India from sources of fresh water ice in New England.

The Tudor Ice Company harvested ice in a number of New England ponds for export and distribution throughout the Caribbean, Europe, and India from 1826 to 1892.

Tudor ice was harvested at Walden Pond in Concord, Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Spy Pond in Arlington, Sandy Pond in Ayer, Horn Pond in Woburn, Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield, Haggett’s Pond in Andover, Suntaug Lake in Lynnfield, Spot Pond and Doleful Pond in Stoneham, and Wenham Lake in Wenham (all places in Massachusetts).




Tudor was the third son of William Tudor, a wealthy Boston lawyer. Although his older brother William Tudor (1779-1830) would become one of Boston’s leading literary figures, Tudor spurned the chance to be educated at Harvard and from the age of 13 occupied himself with business. After a visit to the Caribbean, he decided he could make a fortune exporting ice from the ponds of Massachusetts.

In 1806 (age 23), Tudor bought his first brig Favorite to carry Fresh Pond ice 1,500 miles (2,400 km) from Boston to Martinique.[2] It left dock on February 10, 1806 to the following report in the Boston Gazette: “No joke. A vessel has cleared at the Custom House for Martinique with a cargo of ice. We hope this will not prove a slippery speculation.” While he secured a cargo of ice, a vessel in which to ship it, and formulated his plan of attack, he sent his brother William and his cousin, James Savage, ahead to obtain a monopoly from the various governments of the islands. “We wish you to procure from the gov’ of Cuba a grant exclusive in which we offer you either to take a conces’ of half or procure the privilege for us & we engage to pay you one thousand dollars with reasonable charges, in obtaining it you however to determine which you will do & write to that effect as early as possible.” Although a considerable amount of the ice melted during the three-week journey south, he did manage to sell much of what remained on board for a loss of $4500 overall. However in the subsequent year Tudor had severe financial losses when three shipments to Havana in the brig Trident also resulted in a loss.[2]

Tudor had his first profits in 1810 when his gross sales amounted to about $7400, then increasing to just short of $9000; but of that he only received $1000 due to the “villainous conduct” of his agent. At this point his personal debts far outweighed his income and he spent parts of 1812 and 1813 in debtor’s prison. By 1815, however, he had managed to borrow $2100, both to buy ice and to pay for a new ice-house in Havana. It was a double-shelled structure, twenty-five feet square on its outside dimension, nineteen feet square on the interior, and sixteen feet high, holding some 150 tons of ice. “Pursued by sheriffs to the very wharf,” in Boston, Tudor set sail for Havana on November 1, 1815.

Frederic Tudor at a young age

By 1816, Tudor was shipping ice from Massachusetts to Cuba with ever-increasing efficiency and decided to try his hand at importing Cuban fruit to New York. In August of that year, he borrowed $3000 (at 40% interest) for a shipload of limes, oranges, bananas, and pears, preserving it with 15 tons of ice and 3 tons of hay. The experiment ended in disaster as virtually all the fruit rotted during the month-long voyage, leaving Tudor with several thousand dollars worth of new debt. Still, he pressed on, opening up new markets in three southern U.S. cities (Charleston, South Carolina, Savannah, Georgia, and New Orleans, Louisiana).

Tudor spent the next few years experimenting with various kinds of insulation. Ice was packed aboard ship with wood shavings, sawdust, or rice chaff on its outside surfaces to insulate it against heat. The blocks were also stacked together like well-fitted masonry. He constructed icehouses throughout the tropics and created a demand there for cold refreshments.

By 1825, Tudor was doing well with ice sales, but the difficulty of hand-cutting large blocks limited his company’s growth. However one supplier, Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth, harnessed horses to a metal blade to cut ice. Wyeth’s ice plow made mass production a reality and allowed Tudor to more than triple his production.

In 1833, fellow Boston-based merchant Samuel Austin proposed a partnership for selling ice to India, then some 16,000 miles (26,000 km) and four months away from Massachusetts. On May 12, 1833 the brig Tuscany sailed from Boston for Calcutta, its hold filled with 180 tons of ice cut during the winter. When it approached the Ganges in September 1833, many believed the delivery was an elaborate joke, but the ship still had 100 tons of ice upon arrival. Over the next 20 years, Calcutta would become Tudor’s most lucrative destination, yielding an estimated $220,000 in profits.

However, in the early 1830s Tudor had also begun to speculate in coffee futures with his ice business as collateral. Initially, coffee prices did rise and Tudor made millions of dollars, but in 1834, Tudor fell more than a quarter-million dollars in debt, forcing him to re-focus on the ice trade. By then the ice business had expanded from New York up through Maine, and the construction of new railroad lines allowed the process of transporting ice to become more efficient. By the 1840s, ice was being shipped all over the world, and although Tudor was now just a small part of the trade, his profits allowed him to pay off his debts and resume living a comfortable existence.

Frederic Tudor died in Boston at his house on the northwest corner of Beacon and Joy Streets on Saturday, February 6, 1864. He was buried in the King’s Chapel cemetery on Tremont Street in the Tudor family tomb (number thirteen), but his remains may later have been moved.[1]

The ice business

Ice Harvesting on Spy Pond, Arlington, Massachusetts, 1854.

In 1790, only the elite had ice for their guests. It was harvested locally in winter and stored through summers in a covered well. Ice production was very labor intensive as it was performed entirely with hand axes and saws, and cost hundreds of dollars a ton. By 1830, though, ice was being used to preserve food and by the middle 1830s it had become a commodity. In the 1840s, it began to be used in the production of beer, and by 1850 it was used in urban retail centers. In 1861 the icebox was developed, and by 1865 two homes out of three in Boston had ice delivered every day.

(from Cecile Adams)

Ice-harvesting technology was pretty basic. Although the principles of mechanical refrigeration were generally understood in Ben Franklin’s day, practical application was decades away. What kept harvested ice frozen was its sheer bulk: the more that could be tightly packed together, the longer it stayed cold. Ice houses, where stock could be stored year-round, had double outer walls separated by an insulator such as sawdust. An opening at the top vented the latent heat released by melting; water drained at the bottom lest it hasten thawing. Even so, the melt loss was huge — Wyeth guessed that in the early days 90 percent of the ice harvest disappeared before it could be sold. Better transportation, notably railroads, reduced losses, but even as of 1879, when the annual harvest was upward of eight million tons, about three million turned to water before it could reach market. Weather was another concern — an unseasonably warm winter could lead to an “ice famine” the following summer.

Despite these problems, ice revolutionized the way Americans ate and drank and eventually the way they did business. Tudor and his imitators initially made their money in the steamy south, but soon everybody wanted the stuff. Ice cream and cold beer became summertime staples. A dependable ice supply made it possible to deliver fresh meat, seafood, dairy products, and produce to distant markets and keep it safe from spoilage in home iceboxes. Fruit growers and meat packers capable of shipping refrigerated products worldwide became huge multinational corporations.

Cecil Adams,

During these years, there were ten main sources of ice around Boston. Some ice came from the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers in Maine, but most centered around Fresh Pond, Cambridge; Smith’s Pond, Arlington; Spy Pond, Arlington; Sandy Pond, Ayer; Horn Pond, Woburn; Lake Quannapowitt, Spot Pond and Doleful Pond in Stoneham, Wakefield; Haggett’s Pond, Andover; Suntaug Lake, Lynnfield, Wenham Lake, Wenham and Jamaica Pond in Jamaica Plain where, in 1880, there were 22 icehouses storing 30,000 tons of ice.

In the winter of 1846-47, Henry David Thoreau watched a crew of Tudor’s ice cutters at work on Walden Pond and recorded these remarks in his journal: The sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well. . . . The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.

Wenham Lake ice in particular became world-famous for its clarity, and graced the tables of the aristocracy of plush London society. It is said without undue exaggeration that no dinner party in London was considered complete without ice from Wenham Lake.

Tudor family and Nahant

The Tudors were a Boston Brahmin family. The Ice King inherited his family’s grounds in Nahant, Massachusetts. In 1825, after constructing his summer cottage in the center of town, he began a lifelong campaign to plant trees on treeless Nahant. By 1832 he had 3,358 trees growing in his nursery and within two years he had some 4,000 trees in cultivation, offering them to summer residents for free if they would plant them on their properties. The family grounds are now the Nahant Country Club.

Frederic Tudor was a child of William Tudor (1750—1819), a wealthy lawyer and leading citizen of Boston, and Delia Jarvis Tudor. Frederic’s father also served as a Representative of Boston in the Massachusetts General Court (1781—94), State Senator (1801—02), and Secretary of the Commonwealth (1808—09), and was a founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society, whose first meeting was held in his house in Boston.

Frederic Tudor’s older brother William was a leading citizen of Boston, sometime literary man, and co-founder of the North American Review and the Boston Athenaeum. William Tudor christened Boston “The Athens of America” in an 1819 letter.

Frederic married Euphemia Fenno (April 6, 1814, Mount Upton, New York — March 9, 1884, Newbury, Vermont). Frederic Tudor’s oldest son, Frederic (February 11, 1845 — Boston 1902), was an 1867 graduate of Harvard College and a member of one of the first graduating classes at St. Paul’s School (Concord, New Hampshire). The Ice King’s second son, William, was also a graduate of St. Paul’s School.

The younger Frederic was the grandfather of the 20th century watercolorist and book illustrator Tasha Tudor. (Frederic’s daughter Rosamond married William Starling Burgess). She was born in Boston in 1915 and named Starling Burgess for her father. She styled herself as Tasha Tudor and published under that name.