How Minnesota Once Sold Winter To The Rest Of The Country
As windy and cool as it's been so far this spring in Minnesota, wouldn't it be nice to export some of this weather to somewhere else? Exporting 'winter'-- or a part of it, anyway-- used to be a big business in the North Star State.
Seeing as we're only a few weeks from May already and our temperatures are still in the 30's (when the average high during the last week of April is usually around 60 degrees), I'm a little tired of the cold, and perhaps you are too. But did you know that the winter once was big business in the Land of 10,000 Lakes?
Sure, many resorts, cabins, ski and ice fishing areas up north still use Minnesota's winter as their 'business.' But exporting winter-- specifically ice from the Gopher State's 10,000 frozen lakes and rivers-- used to be a major industry.
According to this History Lesson column from the Sun-Sailor (a weekly site serving the western Twin Cities suburbs), ice from frozen Minnesota rivers and lakes was used before our modern-day refrigerators and freezers were invented to help keep food cold.
And, the story says the ice harvest industry was big in Minnesota from the early 1800s to as recently as the 1950s. Crews would spend several weeks in January, working nearly 24 hours a day, cutting massive blocks of ice that would then be stored in massive, insulated warehouses before being delivered to homes and businesses.
Individual homes and businesses would then put that ice in their icebox-- an insulated cabinet that was the precursor to our refrigerators and freezers-- to help keep food cold. and also used on trucks and trains delivering food across America. The ice harvest was so great that the supply of ice blocks would last throughout the entire year-- even during our hot summer months and was once the second-largest export in the U.S.
However, after electricity made it to even the most rural parts of the country in the early 1950s, Minnesota's ice harvesting business pretty much went away after modern refrigerators and freezers became much more common. An ice harvest is still done each year, though, by the Three Rivers Park District in Plymouth, as well as in other parts of the state as well.