Warren County Iowa Genealogical Society




    My grandmother always referred to the refrigerator as an ice box. I wish I had talked to her more about what is was like to depend on an “ice box”. How quickly did the ice melt? Where did you get the ice? Did you use it in the winter? Did you run out of ice in August and September? Was some ice better than other ice? How big were the ice chunks, or blocks, or whatever they were called? I know I can always “Google” this information but the stories would have been more meaningful coming from my grandmother. The newspapers had plenty of advice for owners of ice boxes.

    In 1888 Scientific American described how to turn a stationary wash-tub into an ice-box. “The ice does not melt faster than in a $10 ice-box.” An article in the Indianola Herald in 1921 advised, “Large pieces of ice do not melt as quickly as small ones, and it costs less to keep the ice box filled rather than half-filled… It is an erroneous belief that ice, when wrapped in paper will not melt so quickly… The paper stops the proper circulation of cold air.” In 1900 the Ladies home Journal recommended using 100 pounds of ice once or twice a week to keep the ice-box cold. They also told housewives to keep the door closed and to avoid scrubbing or scalding the ice box because it will take at least 24 hours to bring the temperature back down to where it needs to be. Will Demory delivered ice to the Indianola area in the early 1900s.

    An advertisement in several newspapers in June and July encouraged people to “Roll out your ice box and get it ready for use.” One of his employees was Fred Duncan. Fred was born near Milo in 1893. He married Will Demory’s daughter, Ethel, in 1917 and later took over the ice business, changing the name to Duncan Ice and Fuel. Fred and Ethel had a son, Dudley, who worked in the business as a teenager. He helped cut the ice into big blocks, bring them back to the storage area, and pack them in sawdust to slow down any melting. Imagine spending the day handling large blocks of ice. They must have had t0 stop frequently to warm up frozen fingers. Dayton Duncan,

    Dudley’s son recently donated three pairs of ice mittens that he inherited from his father and grandfather. They obviously weren’t the ordinary gloves we use today to get through an Iowa winter. They appear to be made from buffalo hide and perhaps bear hide. When Dayton sent us the gloves he made the comment, “It’s always been something of a family joke that Grandpa Duncan was in the coal and ice business, just as technological changes brought natural gas and electric refrigerators to Indianola! Not the best timing; kind of like being in the manual typewriter business when computers arrived.”