The ice pick (two words) of today is a hand tool that was originally used to break up or chip ice. The one-point ice pick resembles the scratch awl, a woodworker’s tool. Both tools have a handle that holds a shank that ends in a spike. Ice picks became more common as kitchen utensils with the invention of the “ice box” by Thomas Moore in 1802. The ice pick was needed to break up the blocks and slabs of ice used in the “ice box” for keeping food cold. The ice box predated modern-day refrigerators. There has always been some type of an ice pick-like tool available to humans who handle ice. The term “ice pick” came into use in the mid-1800s, and there have been many patents meant to improve the ice pick structure. Ice picks have also been used as weapons. The most notorious fame is the use of ice picks by Murder Incorporated, a New York organized crime group in the 1930s and 1940s. The use of ice picks as weapons dates back to prior centuries, even in Kentucky. In 1885, there was an ice pick stabbing at the Guilfoyle Saloon in Maysville, KY (see attached article). Ice picks were also used by medical professionals for brain surgeries (frontal lobotomy through the eye socket), sometimes leaving the patient with permanent brain damage. The procedure was also termed "Ice Pick Lobotomy." During WWII, the production of ice picks was one of the household items that ceased due to the military need for metal. The ban was slightly lifted in 1943 when only 50% of the 1941 production of ice picks was allowed. Ice picks were still needed by households. With the development of modern refrigeration, ice picks continue to be purchased today, with some displayed as collector items. The price of a one-point ice pick ranges from one dollar for a common brand, up to many thousands of dollars for unique items such as the Stephen Webster Tequila Lore Vulture Sterling Silver Ice Pick. No matter the cost, in some states, carrying an ice pick on your person is illegal and equivalent to carrying a deadly weapon.
Rosser and McCarthy
1. “Stabbing: Harry Schraeder dangerously wounded by Fred Frey,” Daily Evening Bulletin, 1885-05-12, p.2.
2. “Wartime Family Living” in Rural Family Living, United States Department of Agriculture, Family Economics Division - FE 409, July 26, 1943, p.11.
3. Ice pick image from Pixabay, OpenClipart-Vectors
4. Ice box image: L.L. Roberts Furniture Company, 425-429 West Main (Lexington); ice box (refrigerator). Lafayette Studios photographs: 1930s decade. University of Kentucky, Special Collections Research Center. Online @ ExploreUK
Reinette Jones, University of Kentucky Librarian & African American Studies Academic Liaison
“Ice Pick,” Kentucky Digital Newspaper Program Exhibits, accessed March 25, 2023, https://kdnpx.omeka.net/items/show/21.