World War I in Lawrence: Locals encouraged to return to ice-harvesting tradition

As recently as 50 or even 25 years before the Great War, Lawrence residents had spent a good part of the winter cutting and storing ice from area ponds and from the Kansas River, and “extensive ice houses on the river bank” had a capacity of several hundred tons. Local “ice men” sometimes were able to harvest two or more crops of ice from the same body of water. However, by the winter of 1917-1918, the Journal-World reported that William Wiedemann was “the last person in Lawrence to put up natural ice.” The lack of old-time ice harvesters was coming at a time when ammonia, necessary for the production of artificial ice, was in short supply due to the war.

On Jan. 18, 1918, locals were encouraged to return to the old ice-harvesting tradition, but according to Wiedemann, there was not much possibility of natural ice coming back on a big scale. This was mostly due to storage issues — as far as was known, there was only one available ice storage house in the city, which was in the Rev. E. E. Stauffer’s large barn in the ten hundred block of Massachusetts. The Rev. Stauffer offered his building for rent to anyone wishing to put up ice, and Mr. Wiedemann offered his advice free of charge: “The best place to get the natural ice is on the old mill pond, Mr. Wiedemann said. The old mill pond now has fourteen inches of ice of fine quality. The trouble of getting ice from the river is that most of it is impure where best available. If the ice is taken at the paper mills there is a great amount of impurity in the ice from the mills, while if it is taken further east it contains impurities from the city sewerage.” River water outside of Lawrence seemed to be of better quality; a week later, it was reported that Ross Iliff, of Lecompton, had “filled the ice house back of his store with about 120 tons of fine natural ice. It is clear and is from ten to twelve inches thick. He harvested it from the Kaw River.”