415. 16,000 MILE ICE CUBES IN THE YEAR 1833
Lately I've been reading A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William Bernstein, a fascinating book which details the history of world trade from the days of Sumer to modern times. This book will definitely disabuse you of the naive notion that peak oil (or anything else) is going to put an end to world trade, and return us to the good old days of rural autarky. The fact is, there never were such days. The human impulse to trade is innate and unstoppable, and has been a core driver of events throughout the course of human history.
There are lots of interesting stories and data points in the book, and I'll share more as time goes on, but I found this bit particularly amazing:
On September 5, 1833, the American clipper Tuscany appeared at the mouth of India's Hooghly River, took on a river pilot, and headed upstream to Calcutta. The news of its arrival was swiftly related upriver, throwing that city, whose name is synonymous with sweltering heat, into a state of excitement. The Tuscany carried a new and priceless cargo: more than a hundred tons of crystal-clear New England ice. (P. 332)This turned out to be one of the most lucrative routes in the international network of the world's original ice trader, Frederic Tudor:
In 1833, fellow Boston-based merchant Samuel Austin proposed a partnership for selling ice to India, then some 16,000 miles (26,000 km) and four months away from Massachusetts. On May 12, 1833 the brig Tuscany sailed from Boston for Calcutta, its hold filled with 180 tons of ice cut during the winter. When it approached the Ganges in September 1833, many believed the delivery was an elaborate joke, but the ship still had 100 tons of ice upon arrival. Over the next 20 years, Calcutta would become Tudor's most lucrative destination, yielding an estimated $220,000 in profits.It's pretty far-fetched to think that a manageable adjustment like peak oil is going to kill the 1,500 mile salad when 16,000 mile ice cubes were a thriving and profitable trade almost 200 years ago, in the pre-fossil fuel period.