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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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The Ice Man: 1939

The Ice Man: 1939

February 1939. "Ice for sale. Harlingen, Texas." View full size. Medium format negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. Here we have a very concise study in what you need for an ice business: Telephone, cash register, tongs, ice pick and a big block of you-know-what. Not to mention plenty of twine.

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A "Cool" Sign

That big bold "ICE" sign didn't hurt the business either. It just about jumps off the wall!


I remember those tongs...when Ice was delivered...those things scared me to death.

Ice door

The little door next to the cash register marks the chute where the block of ice would be pushed out for the customer.

My home town

I grew up in Harlingen, Texas. I remember our ice box. Nasty thing. Always leaking. My mother probably bought ice from this man. Also ice cold watermelons you would "plug" to see if they were good. How did I wind up at this site?

Any Ice To-Day, Lady?

The ice man was a big strong guy who made deliveries to women during the day while the husbands were at work - as a result, he was the subject of many jokes and rumors. In song lyrics of the day the words "ice man" stood for a lothario. The best example that I know of is the song "Any Ice To-Day, Lady" as performed by Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians on the Victor label in 1926. They couldn't be very explicit in those days, so you have to read between the lines:

Any ice to-day, lady?
It's nice to-day, lady.
How about a piece of ice to-day?
Oh, it's only a quarter,
You know that you oughter,
Hurry up before it melts away!
Yes, ma'am! Yes, ma'am!
Not on your linoleum.
No, ma'am! No, ma'am!
Giddyap, Napoleon.
Your poppa's a nice man,
And so's your old ice man,
Oh, lady be good to me!

Any ice to-day, lady?
It's nice to-day, lady.
How about a piece of ice to-day?
Tell me why you don't order,
Some Eskimo water.
Though your credit's good I wish you'd pay.
Yes, ma'am! Yes, ma'am!
I'll give you a premium.
No, ma'am! No, ma'am!
Not a red geranium.
I feel so silly,
I'll hand you a lily.
Oh, lady be good to me!

(To make things a little clearer: the next-to-last line is sung by the woman of the house, not by the ice man himself.)


Apparently to be an ice man one also needs cool socks!


What was the twine used for?

[I think they'd tie it around the ice block as a kind of handle for carrying. - Dave]

Grandpa used to say...

"Every man has his woman, but the ice man has his pick!"

[That's good. Took me a second to get it. - Dave]

The Sign

The piece of paper tacked to the wall says "(something) only." What is that first word?

[Employees Only. And the ice pick says SAVE WITH ICE. - Dave]

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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