General Question

JackAdams's avatar

How could anyone have a "Cold Beer" in the USA, prior to the 1870s?

Asked by JackAdams (6497points) September 21st, 2008

Watch any TV Western or movie about the “Old West,” and you’ll invariably see some cowboy walk into a saloon and plunk down 5¢ to have a cold beer.

OK, just HOW did that beer get cold?

Electricity was developed commercially by Thomas Edison in 1879, with his perfection of the electric light, and commercial air conditioning, followed much later, obviously.

So how were those “Old West” saloons of the 1800s (other than during the cold winter months, of course) able to supply cold drinks, with no electricity?

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17 Answers

Spargett's avatar

I know there were block ice fridges before electricity hit.

Other than that, you could always tie some beers to a string and let em sit in a snow run off stream.

You prob shouldn’t get into the habit of letting movies lead the way for historical accuracies. People have to relate to the things they’re watching, otherwise the movie/show will flop.

asmonet's avatar

You could certainly have a cool/cold beer if you just stuck in a dark corner of the basement of said saloon.

I really haven’t done any research. I’m guessin’. :)

JackAdams's avatar

@Spargett: I don’t believe everything I see in the movies and on TV, of course, but I have seen historical photos of saloons of the 1800s, and even though iceboxes existed back then, as far as I know, ice could not be created during the summer months, could it?

I have heard of chemical reactions being used to create cold and ice, but would the old drinking establishments of the early 1800s have been all that sophisticated?

charliecompany34's avatar

well, there was water of course and cold streams. beer was cold as much as it could possibly be. for it to be as cold as refrigeration was unheard of. they just drank it and enjoyed as is.just slightly cold beer dont taste all that good. guess that explains all the saloon fights.

gailcalled's avatar

I used to own an enormous collection of unwinterized houses* (called a camp) on Lake Placid. We found a double-edged long saw in one of the attics and noticed a room off the porch of Main House that had walls over a foot thick. Out caretaker, who had been there forever, said that during the winter, people sawed huge blocks of ice out of the lake and put them in the ice room for summer refrigeration.

Whether people drank beer or not, I have no idea.

*Main house, guide’s cabin, guest house, woodshed, pump house, three-slip boat house and no road.

asmonet's avatar

Oh! I forgot to mention as a sidenote, even if it wasn’t cold as we would like today it’s not that big a deal. I know in Europe a lot of beer is served at room temp. A bunch of my English friends think I’m hella weird when my drink comes in a chilled glass.

Harp's avatar

Judge Roy Bean exemplified that cliche. He operated a combination court and saloon in the Texas desert town of Langtry. Along with the sign proclaming himself “The Law West of the Pecos” was a famous sign promising “Ice Beer”. He made a small fortune selling beer chilled on imported ice to rail travellers parched by the desert heat.

At that time, ice was still harvested from frozen lakes by commercial ice houses and transported long distances. Shipping technology had developed to the point that ice was routinely shipped to tropical climates. By the latter 1800s, insulating technology was so good that ice houses could store ice year round with only 8% loss.

gailcalled's avatar

We turned our ice house into a work shop and laundry room. And I can still remember the ice man delivering blocks of ice in tongs to my grandmother’s oak ice box. He used to give me chips to suck on. (1939–42.)

JackAdams's avatar

I thought I was the oldest guy in Fluther.

There is someone here who is older than 58?????

gailcalled's avatar

I am older but can still hear. No need for bold texts and all that punctuation. (However, I am not a guy.)

JackAdams's avatar

I’ll post however I wish.

shilolo's avatar

[Fluther moderator] This is a fascinating discussion of refrigeration technology in the 1800s (and later). Please lets try to keep the momentum within the thread (regarding the initial question) and avoid needless derailing.

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Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

Gee, just having some fun Shilolo. BTW, Isn’t all derailing needless?

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sndfreQ's avatar

[Fluther Moderator]: That’s enough now. Personal attacks on anyone are not permitted. Off-topic railroading of discussions will be moderated by site mods. Kindly review the Guidelines if you have any questions. Thank you.

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