Retro Cinema: 1949 How to Build an Igloo in 40 Minutes

The igloo or “iglu” is a temporary winter shelter built by native Eskimos to use for winter hunting camps. From the Arctic to as far west as the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and as far east as the western coastline of Greenland, the igloo structure evolved through trial and error over hundreds of years. Without the aid of math or engineering theories, igloos have been constructed with only a long sharp blade knife to cut the snow block.

With the highest art of snow shelter construction, the igloo requires the precise shaping and placing of snow blocks to form a stable and strong dome-shaped structure. The igloo bears substantial weight without crumbling and can be torn apart with very little force. The structure is so strong, reports of polar bears climbing on top of the igloo using it to better survey the surrounding flat terrain for prey.

An expert igloo builder can have the structure ready in less than an hour. This skill is especially helpful when it starts to get dark and cold outside. With outside temperatures reaching up to minus 45 degrees, the inside of an igloo can be raised with just your body heat between minus 7 and 16 degrees. Snow is an excellent insulator trapping air between the snowflakes while the white color of the snow reflects light and heat keeping the heat generated inside the igloo from escaping.

We hope you enjoy this amazing hidden vintage 1949 film by the National Film Board of Canada that demonstrates the lost art of building igloos!


How to Build an Igloo – National Film Board of Canada 1949 (

Handy, R.L. The Igloo and the Natural Bridge as Ultimate Structures. Journal of the Arctic Institute of North America, 26(4): 276-281, 1973.

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Hope Thompson
Hope Thompson

Hope Thompson is the editor and publisher of Unmasked History Magazine. She has been a freelance journalist for 8 years and has published articles for popular media websites such as Her focus has been on the hidden history, Native American culture, Appalachian and Southern folklore traditions.

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