Ice Saw

Collection #: 1974-047-0001
Donated by Earl Suessen

From the early 1800s into the 1950s saws like this one were used to “harvest” blocks of ice from rivers, lakes and ponds. A horse-drawn plow cut lines in the frozen surface, then workers used breaker bars and five-foot hand saws to finish cutting the blocks. In the 1920s, gas-powered circular saws replaced the plows. The ice was typically 16-18 inches thick and was cut into 20-22 inch squares. The blocks were floated to shore where the frozen cubes were transferred to ice houses for storage. The ice was used as needed until the next year’s harvest, often delivered to homes by the “ice man” who deposited blocks in the family “ice box.”

This ice saw was owned by William Henry Eberhart (1891-1965) of Wood River and was used to harvest ice on the Mississippi River. Many ice harvesters were part-time workers who farmed or worked in other trades the rest of the year.