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Why do Americans love ice water so much?

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Eliza Anderson, Deseret News

If you’re an American eating at a restaurant in Europe and you order a glass of water, you may be surprised — and disappointed — to receive a glass of lukewarm water, or, even worse, a room temperature bottle of water.

A glass of ice water, though customary in the United States, is seen as strange and unnecessary elsewhere.

A few years ago, the HuffPost ran an article titled “It’s Weird That American Restaurants Serve Ice Water In Winter,” in which the author called not just drinking ice water in the winter but also drinking ice water generally a “bizarre” practice.

However, Americans’ “bizarre” preference for ice water is nothing new.

‘The national devotion to ice-water’

Mark Twain once wrote, “I think that there is but a single specialty with us, only one thing that can be called by the wide name ‘American.’ That is the national devotion to ice-water.”

Leave it to the American author to determine what makes us American. And that is, apparently, our love of icy-cold water — water so cold it will give any uninitiated European a brain freeze.

Many have tried to explain this culture gap, with Henry Jeffreys in The Guardian writing ice just isn’t essential in Britain because it doesn’t experience the “scorching summers” that the United States does. Meanwhile, Lisa Bramen, in Smithsonian magazine, speculated that it comes down to Europeans seeing ice as “taking up valuable real estate in the glass,” while Americans have a “more is more” mentality.

‘The Ice King’

All of this is, of course, just speculation. But America’s love of ice cubes could have an historic basis.

As Reid Mitenbuler writes in Epicurious, the national “obsession” with ice cubes can be explained by the success of Boston native Frederic “The Ice King” Tudor in commodifying ice in the early 19th century.

“The Ice King” got his title — and millionaire status — by shipping ice from the frozen lakes of New England to warmer areas such as the Caribbean, New Orleans and even India. Tudor pushed for people to chill their drinks with ice, and, as the story goes, would even give away free iced drinks to hook customers before charging them.

“A man who has drank his drinks cold at the same expense for one week can never be presented with them warm again,” Tudor famously said.

Like Tudor predicted, people got hooked and an ice craze took over the U.S., with 100,000 tons of ice being shipped per year by 1850, and by the 1860s, two-thirds of homes in Boston and New York were getting ice delivered daily.

With the invention of the ice maker and the advent of artificial ice, ice became more readily available — and even more popular.

An American staple

Now, ice is an American staple: Practically all drinks are served with it, and even most fridges now come with an ice maker.

So why did the ice craze not hit Europe like it did the United States?

It’s hard to say why exactly. Perhaps people view it as diluting their drink (though this logic doesn’t apply to water).

Or maybe they didn’t have their own “Ice King” responsible for popularizing ice cubes.

Whatever the reason, and whatever temperature you like you drink, next time you get a glass full of ice cubes, you can thank Frederic “The Ice King” Tudor.