Today's Reading

As he pondered this, the hot sun was melting the ice on the ship fast. Frederic had no other option but to sell it directly from the cargo hold, a move that fell into a legal gray area, because while selling goods from a ship wasn't technically illegal, only those sold on land were actually legal. He charged sixteen and a half cents per pound and sold fifty dollars' worth of ice in two days, before sales dried up. Frederic sat in his sweltering cabin, puzzling over why so few people were buying ice, when one of the ship's crewmen alerted him to an angry customer on the dock. Frederic wiped his sweaty brow, straightened the cuffs of his wool jacket, and met the man outside.

The islander gestured at Frederic and then at the ice with anger. "Il fond!" he shouted. It melts! Bewildered, Frederic started to explain that, yes, of course ice melts, when a second customer appeared, this one as angry as the first. The second man explained that he'd put his ice in a tub of water to stave off the melting, but the water made it melt faster. Frederic stood dumbfounded. He realized that for all his planning, he hadn't accounted for a simple fact: for the majority of people living in the tropics, a block of ice would have been as fanciful as a unicorn. No one knew how to keep ice, let alone how to use it. They wouldn't know how to carve chunks to drop in drinks, or how to crush it for making ice cream. They wouldn't have known that ice soothed swollen limbs or cooled fevers.

To educate the public, he scribbled instructions on how to carry the ice (wrap it in a blanket) and store it (keep it wrapped in a dark room). Clearly, icehouses needed to be built, and fast. He used what was left of his financial reserves to hire carpenters and stonemasons. Toward the end of the month, with the ice melting, he agreed to accept an offer of $3,000 from a merchant on the island to take a cargo of sugar back to Boston.

Once home, he shut himself in the family house to consider what to do next. His debts were due, and he had nothing to show for his work. He sought new investors, but the only interested person was another cousin, James's older brother. The brother had connections in Havana—the kind that might help Frederic get the permissions he needed to trade there. Frederic accepted his money and sent William and James to Cuba to try to convince the government to let them sell ice. Miraculously, they were successful, and that spring, Frederic sent two ships of ice to Havana. The capital city reacted similarly to the people of Martinique and the Dominican Republic. No one knew what to do with ice, and he sold hardly any of it.

Over the next two years, Frederic sent three more ice shipments to Havana, each one a dismal failure. Meanwhile, his father made a series of bad investments in Boston, losing much of the family fortune. Just when Frederic thought things couldn't possibly get worse, he was arrested for debt on State Street in full view of the business owners and their customers. The judge and his friends were able to scrape together enough bail money to keep Frederic out of prison, but Frederic was mortified, writing to his brother-in-law that the whole ordeal had been "abominable."

By 1809, Frederic was twenty-six years old and owed nearly $40,000 to investors. Three years later, the War of 1812 was raging and he still owed money to a number of people in Boston. On one of his rare walks through town, he was again arrested for debt, and this time thrown in prison. Humiliated, he sat behind bars until a close family friend bailed him out.

Back home, the few servants the Tudor family could still afford to pay attempted to cheer him with glasses of iced wine and bowls of homemade ice cream. He closed his eyes and reveled in the coolness of the drink and dessert. Something occurred to him. People unfamiliar with ice wouldn't just figure out what to do with it quickly enough for him to turn a profit. No, he had to show them—actually demonstrate in real time—how ice could be used to make the most delicious things. He wasn't just selling frozen water; he was selling a lifestyle. He knew then in his gut that once people got a taste for such treats, they would buy more ice than he had lake.

* * *
It took Frederic a while to gather the funds to travel, but by November 1815, he was sailing to Cuba once more. There was a warrant out for his arrest that would double his jail time if he were to leave the state. To get around this, Frederic asked his ice harvesters to load the cargo ship under the cover of night, which they agreed to do at twice the pay. (Ice harvesting was especially dangerous in the dark.)

The day he arrived in Havana, he went looking for local cafes. If there was anything his previous times in Cuba had taught him, it was that no one of the island trusted him—but they did trust their local baristas. Cafe culture was dominant in Cuba. Each barista had their own twist on cafe Cubano or a proprietary recipe for mixing crushed fruit with run. These beverages, as delicious as they were, were served lukewarm. Tudor's innovation was to change that. He offered several pounds of ice to dozens of competitive baristas for free, on the condition that they'd allow him to demonstrate how best to serve their drinks chilled. And because the ice cost the baristas nothing, they could charge the same amount for chilled drinks as lukewarm ones. Though skeptical, some agreed.

At first, customers were suspicious of the chunks of frozen water floating in their cups. But you can't argue with the pleasure of a drink on the rocks. Word of the chilled beverages spread, and demand grew quickly. When the cafes ran out of ice, the baristas asked Tudor for more, which he sold, and at an ever-steepening price. Part one of this pan was complete—he had created a market and was finally turning a profit. Now it was time for part two.

This excerpt ends on page 19 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book We're All in This Together...: So Make Some Room by Tom Papa.

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