Navigation Menu+


A pendent conical mass of ice, formed by the freezing of water or other fluid as it flows down an inclined plane, or falls in drops from any thing. — Webster, 1882

The fine weather still continues out West, and a hole is gradually being cut through that leviathan icicle that has taken possession of the railroad track all Winter. — Winona (Minn.) Daily Republican, April 13, 1881.

Icicles are formed when the air is below freezing and the sun is shining, melting existing snow or ice. It drips until it loses its heat to the colder air surrounding it, then a thin film of this liquid freezes as it is flowing downward. The tip (at the bottom) of an icicle grows faster than the base (at the top), causing the long, pointy shape associated with icicles.

Icicles shown in the photo above were forming as melted snow dripped off the roof of the Kingsbury County (South Dakota) courthouse one sunny winter afternoon.

In the Little House books, icicles are often broken off and collected to melt as wash or bathing water. They form on Pa’s whiskers and melt as he warms his face over the stove. In Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that she ate icicles hanging from the Big Woods cabin until Ma told her not to do so any longer. But Laura saw a particularly “nice” piece of ice, popped it into her mouth, and lied to Ma when asked what she was doing. Laura never tells us that Ma explained why she wasn’t to eat icicles (on a hot day in On the Banks of Plum Creek, Mary sighs and wishes she had an icicle, but we don’t know if it was to eat or to melt into cool water with which to bathe her face), but there may have been many reasons why she forbid the practice, the main one being bacteria, viruses, and impurities that made their way into the water dripping off roofs and other surfaces. A different reason is explained below:

An Injurious Practice. The practice of eating snow and ice, so common among school-children of the Northern States, is a fruitful cause of catarrh. It is common to see boys and girls devour a snow-ball as though it were an apple, or an icicle as eagerly as a bit of candy. The hard palate which forms the roof of the mouth also forms the floor of the nostrils, and is no thicker than pasteboard. The chilling effect of snow and ice brought freely in contact with this thin partition, the upper covering of which is a sensitive secreting membrane, made up almost wholly of fine blood-vessels and nerves, produces a congestion, often succeeded by chronic inflammation. As a consequence, these snow and ice-eating boys and girls almost always have “colds in the head” and running noses. This is the foundation and origin of one of the most disagreeable, persistent and incurable affections to which the people of the North are subject—nasal catarrh. Catarrh is said to lead to consumption. Whether this is so or not, the chilling of the nasal membranes, a part of whose function it is to warm the air in its passage to the lungs, cannot but injure these organs, particularly in people of a delicate constitution. [Rural New Yorker] — The Redwood Gazette, Redwood Falls, Minnesota, January 1, 1880.


icicle (BW 2, 4, 6-7; FB 2, 6-7, 10, 26; BPC 27, 35; TLW 5; THGY 1; PG)
     eating icicles (PG)