The “This Day in Tech” blog at Wired has an interesting article about the first delivery of ice, collected in New England, to Calcutta, India, on September 13, 1833.
The transoceanic operation, undertaken by the Tudor Ice Co., began in early May 1833, when approximately 180 tons of freshwater ice was loaded into the insulated hold of the sailing ship Tuscany in Boston.
The ice was “harvested” from frozen lakes and ponds during the winter. (Thoreau writes about one such operation at Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, in the chapter “The Pond in Winter” in Walden.)
Of course, refrigeration had not yet been invented, so the ships carrying the ice, and the storage places for it, had to be built with considerable insulation — contemporary accounts suggest that a foot or more of insulating material surrounded the ice on all sides.
Having relatively pure ice, in a country with a warm climate, was a novelty and a luxury. Even the Romans, who made a form of ice cream, had to rely on snow brought down from the mountains by runners. The New England ice was, apparently, a big hit in India:
Locals marveled at the giant, icy cubes as they were unloaded from the specially outfitted seafaring vessels.
It would only be a few decades before mechanical refrigeration made it possible to make ice in India and other places where it never occurred naturally. But it’s still kind of startling to realize that something that we take so much for granted had to be shipped halfway around the world not so long ago.