Steve Jobs told us that, “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Similarly, in a world of warm drinks, no one knew that chilled water would taste better.
Where are we going? To ice.
An Ice King
Our story starts in 1806. Living on his family estate in Massachusetts, Frederic Tudor realized that the people in Central America could use the ice from his frozen pond. But when he tried to raise enough money to send an 80 ton shipment of ice to Martinique, friends and neighbors thought he was crazy. So, he self-funded the venture and it flopped. The ice arrived intact but no one wanted to buy any.
From Frozen, this ice harvesting song pretty accurately shows how Frederic Tudor got his ice. What you don’t see is the icehouse where, in 80 foot high stacks, it was stored and the (free) sawdust he used to preserve the ice when it transporting it.
Persisting, Tudor offered free ice at bars, convinced doctors that ice would help feverish patients and secured monopolies. By mid-century, the cold drink habit had spread from Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans and Havana to Calcutta and beyond. Meanwhile back in London, it was said that Queen Victoria of England would only use Massachusetts ice from Wenham Lake in her drinks.
And yes, for months, the ice really did not melt as it moved around the world:
Our Bottom Line: Billionaire Entrepreneurs
As the person who created the ice trade, we can say that Frederic Tudor was truly an entrepreneur. But creating a startup was not the reason.
To call someone an entrepreneur, we also need innovation and growth.
In “Small Business Activity Does Not Measure Entrepreneurship,” researchers hypothesized that we will find our entrepreneurs by focusing on society’s most affluent individuals. Looking from 1996-2010 at Forbes’s ranking, in 50 countries they found 996 self-made billionaires whom they called high-impact entrepreneurs.
Using billionaire statistics, they identified the world’s most entrepreneurial countries:
Agreeing that entrepreneurship requires more than starting a business, we can end where we began. This (supposed) Henry Ford quote sounds a bit like Steve Jobs: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
My sources and more: I enjoyed Frederic Tudor’s story during a 99% Invisible podcast from Mental Floss, in this detailed article and also in The Ice King. Looking back and then leaping forward to how we regard ice today, the story is amazing and a perfect example of the role of the entrepreneur. Please note that this post was slightly edited after it was published.