The first ice-making systems relied on ammonia distillation. A hardwood fired, steam engine-like unit was used to boil ammonia which was allowed to cool within a cooling tube and thus artificial pre-electric refrigeration was born.
Harvesting ice isn't "making ice" . There were limitations to harvesting as not all areas had winters cold enough to produce ice from winter lake freeze overs. There is a debate as to what spurred the need for ice the most. With the advent of the meat packing industry meat from the west needed refrigeration to keep it from spoiling. There became a demand for the ability to produce ice outside of winter. There was limited use of ice to ship home the civil war dead but was so haphazard that embalming won out.
"History of NH3 as a refrigerant"
Ammonia first came into commercial use in the mid-1850's and began to take hold in the late 1890's. As our nation turned into the 20th Century, ice harvesting was the largest single employer group in the U.S. at the time - more people were employed cutting ice out of lakes and rivers than any other type of job. An unusually warm winter occurred during the late 1880's - natural ice became scare and had to be imported from Europe at great expense. Natural ice, regarded by many at the time as 'God's ice', precluded many people from purchasing the new 'synthetic' ice. However, this marked the beginning of ice production using newfangled machinery at the time: an ammonia refrigeration system. Companies such as Henry Vogt Machine (boilers came along first followed by ice machine in the 1930's), Vilter, Frick, Wolf-Linde et al got started right about this time as the demand for ammonia refrigeration ice-making machinery mushroomed."
"the Southern Plow Company, in 1877. Using the skills developed during the war, the Iron Works continued to fabricate a wide range of steam engines for plantations, mills and riverboats. By 1880, only the Columbus Iron Works was manufacturing steam engines within Georgia.
The technique which the company perfected while building steam engines allowed it to become a pioneer in the refrigeration industry. In 1872, the Iron Works, directed by George J. Golden, erected the city’s first ice machines, but similar devices were already operating in other southern cities. The Columbus Iron Works, however, was one of three companies within the United States to begin mass-producing ice machines in the early 1880’s. For the next twenty years, the Iron Works produced the nation’s best selling ammonia-absorption machines. It’s H. D. Stratton models (which froze from 3 to 100 tons of ice per day) were installed in ice plants throughout the nation, Latin America, and Canada (at prices ranging from $4,400 to $45,500).
The first commercial ice making plant manufactering operation was founded in Columbus, GA. Part of one of the original apparatus has been preserved at the National Infantry Museum http://www.conventiontradecenter.com/history.cfmhttp://www.rogersrefrig.com/history.html