An ice pick is a household tool designed to break up large chunks of ice. In the past, when ice had to be harvested from frozen, natural bodies of water and delivered to people's homes in large blocks, ice picks were a common tool used to break apart smaller, more usable portions. Following the widespread proliferation of refrigerators, which allowed small ice cubes to be produced in the home, ice delivery and ice picks became largely obsolete. Basic in design, an ice pick is essentially a metal spike embedded in a handle, and has changed little since its invention.
Before home refrigeration, ice was typically delivered, on a regular basis, to houses and businesses where it was placed in iceboxes. These containers, much like modern refrigerators, were designed to keep it frozen, but could only do so for a limited period of time. Before and during delivery, ice was stored in bulk — in large, cooled buildings known as icehouses — and then cut into smaller blocks using a variety of tools. It was then shipped out by horse-and-buggy or early motorized vehicles. While the earliest ice pick designs featured an iron or steel protrusion inserted into a wooden handle, modern picks can feature chrome-plated stainless steel and rubberized hard plastic handles, to maximize safety and improve aesthetics. Most modern ice picks are usually around eight inches (20.3 centimeters) in length.
Though generally relegated to the status of niche tool, ice picks nevertheless have gained a degree of notoriety for their use as a murder weapon, both in popular fiction and in real life. The ice pick became a favorite of mobsters in the early part of the 20th century as a stabbing weapon and a means of intimidation. Their relatively small size and easily concealable nature, along with their legitimately non-violent intended use, made them ideal weapons for criminals.
Newspaper investigations into mob warfare revealed the ice pick was considered a tool of choice for murdering someone without leaving any obvious signs of violence, as the pick could be driven through a victim's ear, killing him but leaving only a very small puncture wound, that often went unnoticed, at least initially, by law enforcement of the time. An ice pick was also famously used to kill Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. The most well-known reference to an ice pick in popular culture comes from the film Casino, directed by Martin Scorcese. In it, a character played by Joe Pesci boasts to have used one in the torture of a victim.