When you stay at a hotel in the United States, there are certain things you expect. Fresh sheets, a bible in the bedside table and, of course, an ice machine down the hall. Lurking in the corners of corridors, ice machines are unique to American hotels and tell a tale about the U.S. and its love affair with overly cooled beverages.
The free ice in hotels trend is mostly credited to Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inn.
His was the first hotel chain to offer guests free access to ice machines starting at the original Holiday Inn, which opened in 1952 in Memphis, Tennessee.
According to Slate, “Wilson was frustrated by the upcharges and additional fees he encountered when traveling — yes, hotels once had the nerve to charge for ice — so he decreed that ice would be free for all guests in his hotels.”
Personally, I don’t like ice in my drinks. It gives me brain freeze. But there’s an American obsession with drinks being served at arctic temperatures that can’t be denied. This likely dates back to the mid-19th century, when ice was a luxury. The ice would be harvested for use domestically and shipped across the Atlantic and sold at a high price in Europe. Hence, why Europeans (like me) never really developed a taste for water that chills you to the bone. Later in the 1940s and 50s, iceboxes became increasingly common in American homes. Ice was less of a luxury and felt more like a necessity.
With Americans traveling and staying in hotels more frequently in the 1950s, the demand for ice to be brought to the room shot up. Keeping up with demand was pricey for hotels, which is why ice machines came along and continue to reside in corners of hotels to this day.