Here Comes The Iceman

Julius ‘Julio’ De Witte, opened the first know ice plant in Manila,

In the 1850s commercial ice-making became viable. There were several technologies developed at the time but the most common used the evaporation of ammonia to produce the freezing effect. You experience a similar effect if you put rubbing alcohol on your skin.

These early ice plants reportedly produced an inferior product to New England ice, according to Mark Twain. Over time the technology improved and made its way to Manila.

It was no longer necessary to import ice all the way from the US although customs duties for imported ice remained at zero into the American period in the Philippines..

Julius Witte, who hispanised his name to Julio for business purposes had set up an ice plant at 21 Calle Barraca by 1873. Witte had an ironworks and dealt in perfume essences such as ylang-ylang.

While it is widely believed that any reference to sorbete automatically indicates ice-cream an 1875 guide references sorbet and what may have been ice-cream as separate products, sorbete and helado, but has no reference to a helado maker, indicating that there was no commercial ice-cream being manufactured in the Philippines at the time. If it did exist it was limited to restaurants and possibly private homes.

By 1875 Russel & Sturgis is said to have installed an ice plant at Barraca Street. However. I have yet to find any evidence that the company actually operated an ice=making plant. Online accounts say that the company sold its ice plant to Julius Witte in 1881, but the company had gone bankrupt in 1875-76.

The last years of the 19th century were not kind to Russel & Sturgis. In 1873 a financial crisis enveloped the US and Europe. Prices for commodities like hemp and sugar, and demand for Philippine exports, plummetted. Russell & Sturgis had extended credit to buyers and growers. Instead of working on commission it was dependent on commodity prices.

Attempts to raise money from US banks, which were themselves going bust, failed. It was a perfect storm which Russell & Sturgis did not survive in the Philippines.

British traders were in a stronger financial position because they were predominantly importers so the hemp industry passed into the hands of British traders and transported on British ships to the US, much to widespread dismay in the US.

Two scenarios might fit the link between Russell & Sturgis and Julius Witte: First, that the company imported the equipment for Witte’s 1873 venture and that was all; Second, that Witte bought an operating plant from the bankrupt Russell & Sturgis and added it to his existing equipment.

We may owe ‘dirty ice cream’ to Julio Witte.

Part Five: Down and Dirty

Part Three: Charles Mugford: The Manila Chilla

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