Nebraska’s Ice Industry

The Rankin Brothers Ice Works at Cambridge in Furnas County about 1900. NSHS RG3371-3-5

The Rankin Brothers Ice Works at Cambridge in Furnas County about 1900. NSHS RG3371-3-5

For many years the cutting of ice from rivers and lakes was an important winter industry in Nebraska, especially in the eastern part of the state. There was a large demand for ice for home use, the packing industry, and for railroad refrigerator cars. A small ice harvest was enough to cause a panic among ice dealers, brewers, butchers, and meat packers in Omaha in January of 1882.

One of the largest and best known ice cutting operations in Nebraska was run by the Crete Mills at Crete. At first ice was cut from the Big Blue River, but as demand increased, two lakes were constructed on the west side of the river. Ice was cut whenever the thickness reached ten or more inches. Most of the ice cut by the Crete Mills was sold to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, which shipped the freshly cut ice in especially designed cars to various icing stations along the railroad.

Large ice cutting operations were also located at Memphis and Ashland in Saunders County and at Orleans in Harlan County. At Crystal Lake near Hastings there was a large business dating from 1893 when the Crystal Ice Company dammed a portion of the Little Blue River north of Ayr, creating Crystal Lake for harvesting and selling ice. There are now Nebraska Historical Markers near Memphis and Crystal Lake. — Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

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