A “Postcard from Nowhere,” side one: found in Indianapolis Marion County Public Library Digital Indy Collection

A Vintage Advertising Curiosity
Researching old advertisements can bring on a serious case of the “WhatTheHecks!?”

Take, for example, this early advertisement by the Indianapolis Polar Ice & Fuel Company, featuring illustrations of three buildings that bear no relation to the company… nor to ice… or fuel, and it doesn’t list the advertiser’s contact information. The designers left virtually no space for correspondence on the back, so though it is clearly labeled as such, it’s hardly a functional postcard.


Our “Postcard from Nowhere,” side two: found in Indianapolis Marion County Public Library Digital Indy Collection

Trade cards and postal cards were highly prized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When a German chromolithographic printing process was adopted by a number of printers in the US in the 1860s, enterprising marketers realized the potential of the new technology and began using multicolored cards as giveaways. The public was captivated. By the 1880s, hobbyists were collecting these premiums, and trading or saving them in elaborate scrapbooks. Clever marketers sometimes printed card series that would require a patron-collector to visit their store regularly in order to complete a set.

Our “postcard to nowhere” may have been one of the first such advertisements for Polar Ice. The company’s marketers eventually produced a series of cards featuring the iconic Polar Ice wagon photographed with (or superimposed near) a popular landmark. 

Popular as it once was, the fervor for collecting trade cards died off in the early 1900s, when postage rates for magazines became more affordable and businesses turned to cheaper and more widely-distributed magazine ads.

The Polar Ice Company (1892-2000)
First Location: 177–179 (later 331) East Wabash Street, Indianapolis (1892–1902)

Company founder, Henry Louis Dithmer, was born in New York in 1869 and moved with his family to Indianapolis in 1872. Dithmer appears to have been an industrious young man. He worked as a newsboy, office clerk, and bill collector, and for a brief time in his teens, co-owned a cigar store and newsstand on Virginia Avenue.  Dithmer learned the ice trade while working for the Shover & Dickson Ice Company beginning in 1885. Before the advent of refrigeration, large chunks of ice were cut from ponds and lakes around the region and hauled to the city for storage at a number of ice companies in the area. Shover & Dickson were the first to build an artificial ice plant in Indianapolis in 1889, in a small building on Wabash Street.

Being ambitious, Dithmer organized a group of investors to purchase Shover & Dickson in 1892. In response to a depletion of Indiana natural gas, the company diversified and began selling coal in 1902 — refashioning itself as the Polar Ice & Fuel Co.

Polar Ice survived for over 100 years, eventually expanding throughout the Midwest. By the late 1990s, the company was making 17 million bags of ice per year, with sales surpassing $11 million. By the end of that decade, the company boasted eight manufacturing facilities, seven distribution sites, and six regional offices in five states. The firm was sold to a competitor in 2000.


Could this be “Kate and Queen”?


Humorous Tail(s)
According to the Indiana Historical Society,

The company did not convert to gas-powered delivery trucks until around 1914 or 1915 and at one time owned as many as 110 horses and mules. Two particular mules, Kate and Queen, became local celebrities. The two mules, used in advertisements for Polar Ice, pulled an old-fashioned carriage at the head of the parade that opened the baseball season every year. The city held a downtown parade in honor of the two mules upon their retirement in 1928, and when Queen died in 1938, the Indianapolis Star declared the mules “a sort of civic institution, symbol of an era in the development of Indianapolis.”

Humorous Tales
Dithmer also seems to have been a bit of a firebrand. One story of his antics — a spat between Dithmer and Indianapolis Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures, Isidor Wulfson — is brilliantly retold by HI contributor Libby Cierzniak here (with additional postcard views).

Tell us in the comment box below:
What else do you know about the Polar Ice Company?
What kind of vintage Indianapolis advertising, postcards or trade cards do you collect?

3 responses to “Sunday Adverts: The Postcard From Nowhere”

  1. Tom says:


    This is the earliest Polar Ice postcard I’ve seen. The divided back means it was probably published after 1906. Until I read your article, I hadn’t considered the possibility that postcards of this type were actually a cross (a hybrid) between the earlier trade card format and the more modern postcard format. They seem to have been designed for collecting rather than mailing.

    I wonder if this postcard was part of a series that paved the way for the better known series published by Polar Ice a few years later? That later series was in a different league when it came to print quality, and ranks very high when compared with all other Indiana color print postcards from that era. The higher quality probably meant a higher production cost as well. If so, it was money well spent in my opinion.

  2. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    John David Dithmer was my Shortridge High School classmate. He is the youngest son of Henry Louis Dithmer Jr. and the grandson of Henry Louis Dithmer Sr. John threw some great parties in the Dithmers’ Washington Boulevard home during our high school years (with plenty of ice for the beverages, of course). Polar Ice had an ad in our yearbook, The Annual, in which John and his girlfriend (now his wife), Janis Rochman, appeared. John and Janis Dithmer now live in California and will be in Indianapolis for our Shortridge High School class’ 50-year reunion this summer. I will forward your article to John.

  3. Tinsley Dahl says:

    I have these exact drawings on a larger “map” of Indianapolis that was published by the Indianapolis Historical Society and has a year of 1830. It’s a drawing of downtown as seen from the School for the Blind, with dozens of these small drawings forming the border of the “map”. These three are not located near each other on the map. However, they’re the exact same drawings. The publisher on this piece is E Sachse & Co, Baltimore, MD whom on this piece is also credited with the original drawings. I always assumed that this framed piece was a reproduction, but at second look, it could be original?

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