Asheville Archives: City loses its cool over ice shortage, 1919

NO CHILL: In the summer of 1919, the city ran out of ice. Some in the community placed sole blame on the Asheville Ice Co. The company responded with a letter to the editor, explaining its role in the situation. The featured image shows the Asheville Ice Co. participating in the 1933 Rhododendron Festival. Photo by E.M. Ball; courtesy of Special Collections, D.H. Ramsey Library, UNCA

In August 1919, a collective shiver appears to have run down the spines of local residents and visitors alike, when it was discovered that Asheville had run out of ice.

“If the present ice producing facilities of the city are insufficient to supply the growing demands, some public-spirited company of citizens should establish a factory which will take care of the local needs and place Asheville people beyond danger of ice famine at the flood tide of summer business,” The Sunday Citizen wrote in its Aug. 3, 1919, edition.

Otherwise, the paper continued, the city’s reputation was at risk. “It would be hard to conceive of a situation which would be less of an advertisement than for the word to go out that Asheville, although supplied with breezes that sometimes seem to come from Greenland’s icy mountains, is nevertheless iceless.”

In the same day’s paper, a separate article informed readers that local soda fountain keepers “stood to lose many gallons of ice cream,” on account of the situation. To make matters worse, the article reported, a spokesperson for the Asheville Ice Co. — one A.W. Faulkner —  “saw no chance to meet the emergency within the next fifteen days.” Residents, Faulkner asserted, “will have to economize as much as possible.”

In the following day’s paper, an editorial came to the company’s defense. “There is an ice shortage throughout the country,” The Asheville Citizen reminded readers. “Natural ice was not stored away last winter in large quantities because of the mild weather did not favor the formation of ice crystals.”

An ice shortage, the article went on to suggest, was less urgent than many of the city’s more pressing needs:

“Housing accommodations are distressingly inadequate; even the streets are crowded with traffic, vehicular and pedestrians, and no solution has been found by engineers for this problem. It is admitted that more amusement and recreation facilities are needed, and yet Asheville has discussed these improvements for years without taking action on a broad scale with a view to the growth of all kinds languished during the war, and with war past high prices and over-conservatism still handicap necessary developments.”

On Aug. 5, 1919, in a letter to the editor, several members of the Asheville Ice Co. signed their names to a response about the scarcity.

“Articles in Sunday’s paper leave upon the reader a mistaken impression that the manufacturers of ice in Asheville are indifferent to the needs and comfort of the ice-consumers,” the letter began. “Such is so very far from being the case.”

First and foremost, the letter made clear that Asheville Ice Co. did not manufacture ice; the company “merely handles the ice.” Therefore, it continued, “when the Asheville Ice company closed their doors Saturday night, it was because they could not obtain any more ice from the factories.”

The letter went on to remind readers that the company had planned for expansion prior to the U.S. entry into The Great War. “But before these plans could be put into execution, the government called a halt on all building,” the writers declared. “And even if patriotism had not inspired us to obey we would have found it impossible to obtain machinery, materials and labor to make the additions.”

With the war now over, the letter continued, preparations were underway to enlarge the plant, “and it is hoped that without further delay the capacity will be so increased that it will be sufficient to furnish not only Asheville but the surrounding towns all the year round, with plenty of ice.”

In the meantime, the letter implored, “we can only beg the public to bear with us as patiently as they have done with the overcrowded hotels and boarding houses.”

Lastly, the writers concluded, “We also beg the public to watch every possible source of waste, and to make every pound of ice go as far as it can for the next two or three weeks.”

Coverage of the ice shortage appears to have dried up after this point, leaving this reporter to conclude cooler heads (and drinks) prevailed as demands for ice cream cones were satiated.

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents. 


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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