How ice was made before refrigeration?

Before refrigeration, ice was an extreme luxury in the summer months. In Europe, drinks were kept chilled (and ices made) by bottling liquids and cooling them in a solution of water and saltpeter, which produces relatively low temperatures.

In general, households which had ice had generally stored some from winter, packed in sawdust, in an ice house. I remember being fascinated as a little girl reading the scene in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy where Almanzo and his family cut large blocks of ice from a pond with a huge saw and then pack and store them.

Those who didn't have the means or the wherewithal to store ice-which was most people-kept their food and drinks as cool as possible by storing them in window boxes, in spring houses where small streams ran through cool dark building, or even sometimes tied to lines under water in a lake or pond. As you can imagine, this wasn't terribly effective and many people died from eating spoiled food and/or dairy, most famously President Zachary Taylor who was said to have been brought down by a snack of cherries and cream eaten at an Independence Day celebration.

It wasn't until the latter part of the 19th century that refrigerated train cars came about as a means of shipping produce. The first of these were cooled by blocks of ice housed in insulating material (patented in 1867, I believe). Before that, all of the produce you could buy had to be grown locally. The invention of refrigerated train cars helped establish Chicago as the "hog butcher to the world" (because meat no longer had to be butchered on site and sold immediately) and California as a mass producer of "luxury" perishables (citrus fruits, peaches, avocados, etc.). The invention of refrigerated train cars made such an impact on society, that it is actually part of the U.S. History curriculum I teach to my 11th graders!

Hope this answers your question. It is amazing to think of how many years people lived without the modern conveniences we enjoy today.