As a fan of old-school sci-fi, Art Deco design — and cocktails — I stopped in my tracks when I recently laid eyes on this super nifty gadget I had never heard of before: the ice gun.
I had to know more and after some research, I discovered that it was made by an unknown designer and manufactured by the Opco Company of Los Angeles, California, in 1935, and combines two big cultural influences of the time — industrial design and the sci-fi comic Buck Rogers — to form an iconic and rare piece of Art Deco hardware.
The ice gun in fact looks like a gadget Buck would use to make cocktails aboard his rocket ship after a tough day of fighting space enemies, and bears a resemblance to the comic-book hero’s metal toy ray gun, the XZ-31 Rocket Pistol by Daisy, that was a huge hit when it came out in 1934. But this fires crushed ice instead of death rays.
As much a ray gun as a fun and functional appliance, the enameled aluminum and chrome-plated steel ice gun derives its sleek form from the design motif of streamlining. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, streamlining was developed by aerodynamic engineers as a means of minimizing air resistance. With its bullet-profiles and flowing lines, streamlining not only made objects move faster, it made them look fast, which appealed to a nation increasingly enamored with speed and power. During the 1930s, it was applied to planes, cars, and trains, as well as to a wide range of appliances and other household objects, including arm chairs, vacuum cleaners, clocks, meat slicers and radios.
The ice gun connected the new cocktail culture that took hold after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 with popular science and interest in space travel. But the gadget, which is 6-3/4 inches high by 11 inches wide, was not only a fanciful invention for home bartenders to provide a bit of theater at cocktail parties and serve drinks with flair to delighted guests, it was a sophisticated technological advancement. Thirsty gunslingers would pull back on the silver cone-shaped spring-loaded plunger, drop a couple of ice cubes in the opening at the top, release the trigger and “shoot” a spray of now pulverized ice through the rubber gasket and into a waiting glass.
Production of the ice gun was limited and there are only a handful that still exist. When one comes to auction, it’s no surprise that it can sell for thousands — even tens of thousands. In 2010, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art bought one for its collection at a Wright auction for $32,500, more than twice the estimate. According to its auction archives, Wright has sold several others over the years including a yellow one in 2004 for $33,040, and red models in 2008 for $9,000, in 2013 for $23,750, in 2015 for $7,500, and another for $8,125 in 2017. A red model also sold at 1stDibs.com for $6,800.
If there was ever a little too much indulgent fun using the ice gun, there was a remedy for that. According to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which has one in its collection, the product brochure says the shaved ice can also fill the “ice bag,” presumably to hold against your aching head after too many cocktails.
This YouTube video shows the ice gun in action starting at the 1:53-minute mark, as well as some other nifty vintage kitchen gadgets.