Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ice Ice baby

I postponed writing about this topic until the temperatures became a little nicer outside. No one wants to talk about ice in the middle of winter, but that used to be the time of year to make money on ice.

Nowadays, if we want ice, we just ankle into the kitchen and open the freezer door on the Kelvinator, where crystal-clear cubes drop into a white container automatically.  Very simple deal.

But imagine yourself living in India in the early 1800s...no Whirlpool refrigerator in the kitchen to make your ice...and even if there had been one, there was nowhere to plug it in!  And all across the Caribbean, Europe, and India, there were no frozen ponds to chip off a chunk of ice and cool your limeade.

Where is there plenty of free ice?  Massachusetts in winter!  So the only problem is, find a way to get that ice over the sea to places where they need it, and you'll be rolling in the long green in a minute.

The Wright Brothers weren't even twinkles in papa Wright's eyes at the time, so Frederic Tudor (1783 - 1864) knew he couldn't count on an airplane to send the ice to the Old World.

So he packed huge ("yuuuuuuge!") ice slices, cut from Walden Pond in Concord, Mass, and other waterways, packed them onto a ship and covered them with sawdust and shipped them off to places that wanted ice.

Ice King Tudor
His first effort was sending ice aboard his ship "Favorite" to Martinique with a load of frosty coolness.  It took three weeks for the ship to get there (I suppose they stopped off somewhere for beer and pizza on the way) and a lot of the ice had become watered down, and then had become water, which is hard to sell on an island surrounded by it.  Tudor sold what little ice there was to sell, and took a loss of $4500 on the deal.

That was 1806, but by 1810 he was profiting from selling ice to the tune of a cool $7400.  But there was no Forbes Magazine then to give him business advice, so Tudor had to spend some time in debtor's prison in 1812 and 1813, before springing out in the fall of 1815 with a new scheme - an icehouse in Havana, nicely insulated, and large enough to hold 150 tons of ice.

In the years to come, he brought back Cuban fruit as the boats returned to New England, and it's stunning to think how much he could have taken in by combining the fruit with the ice and some Cuban sugar and inventing the snowball. 

Tudor also missed out on making some bigtime starbucks when he invested in coffee futures in the 1830s...he couldn't envision iced coffee!

Today's modern entrepreneur knows how to diversify, spreading his income and investments across all spectra of the business world, before indictments, jail terms and disgrace get in the way.

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