The Minneapolis Tribune once described it as “the one crop in Minnesota that never fails.” For six weeks beginning in January, men armed with saws and steel tongs descended upon frozen lakes and rivers to cut ice blocks to be stored for year-round sale. Homes and businesses alike needed the ice to keep meat and produce chilled in the decades before cheap refrigeration became widespread.

Harvesting ice was cold, demanding work, made somewhat easier with the introduction of gasoline-powered saws and conveyor belts in the early 1900s. Here are a few photos from Minnesota's ice-cutting past.

January 1947: Alfred Hilgers Sr. of Spring Park muscled an ice block onto a truck on Cedar Lake in Minneapolis. I didn't know his identity until his daughter, Karen Hilgers Schuler of Minnetrista, dropped me a line after recognizing his face in the paper after this photo appeared in print in 2001. She shared this memory: "He told us children many stories of the importance of ice harvesting and the part it played in homes and businesses in the days of pre-electric refrigeration."


Plaid jackets and Elmer Fudd caps were all the rage on Cedar Lake during the January 1947 ice harvest. (Photo courtesy


An employee of the Cedar Lake Ice Co. directed blocks onto a conveyor belt. (Photo courtesy


More of the January 1947 ice harvest on Cedar Lake. (Photo courtesy


Employees of the Fargo-Detroit Ice Co. lined up for a photo in or near Detroit Lakes, Minn., in 1897. (Photo courtesy


Big commercial operations weren't the only ones harvesting ice. Here three men cut up pond ice for use on a Le Sueur County farm in 1910.  (Photo courtesy


October 1936: Trucks awaited their load of ice at a Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Co. storage building, most likely the massive brick structure that now houses the Icehouse Studio at 25th and Nicollet. (Photo courtesy


An employee of the Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Co. slipped a cold one into the ice box of a Minneapolis home in about 1930.  (Photo courtesy

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