The Surprising History of Ice Cream

Two cups of ice cream sitting on a ledge in front of the Colosseum in Rome on a sunny day.

falby83 / Pixabay

The origins of ice cream can be traced back to at least the 4th century B.C.E. Early references include the Roman emperor Nero (37-68 C.E.), who ordered ice to be brought from the mountains and combined with fruit toppings. King Tang (618-97 C.E.) of Shang, China had a method of creating ice and milk concoctions. Ice cream was likely brought from China back to Europe. Over time, recipes for ices, sherbets, and milk ices evolved and were served in the fashionable Italian and French royal courts.

After the dessert was imported to the U.S., it was served by several famous Americans, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In 1700, Governor Bladen of Maryland was recorded as having served it to his guests. In 1774, a London caterer named Philip Lenzi announced in a New York newspaper that he would be offering various confections for sale, including ice cream. Dolly Madison served it in 1812 while she was First Lady of the U.S.

America's First Ice Cream Parlor

The first ice cream parlor in America opened in New York City in 1776. American colonists were the first to use the term "ice cream." The name came from the phrase "iced cream," which was similar to "iced tea." The name was later abbreviated to "ice cream," the name we know today.

Methods and Technology

Whoever invented the method of using ice mixed with salt to lower and control the temperature of ingredients provided a major breakthrough in ice cream technology. Also important was the invention of the wooden bucket freezer with rotary paddles, which improved the manufacture of ice cream.

Augustus Jackson, a confectioner from Philadelphia, created new recipes for making ice cream in 1832.

In 1846, Nancy Johnson patented a hand-cranked freezer that established the basic method of making ice cream still used today. William Young patented the similar "Johnson Patent Ice-Cream Freezer" in 1848.

In 1851, Jacob Fussell in Baltimore established the first large-scale commercial ice cream plant. Alfred Cralle patented an ice cream mold and scooper used to serve it on February 2, 1897.

The treat became both distributable and profitable with the introduction of mechanical refrigeration. The ice cream shop, or soda fountain, has since become an icon of American culture.

Around 1926, the first commercially successful continuous process freezer for ice cream was invented by Clarence Vogt.

Who Invented Ice Cream Recipes You Love?

The idea for the Eskimo Pie bar was created by Chris Nelson, an ice cream shop owner from Onawa, Iowa. He thought up the idea in the spring of 1920 after he saw a young customer called Douglas Ressenden having difficulty choosing between ordering an ice cream sandwich and a chocolate bar. Nelson created the solution, a chocolate-covered ice cream bar. The first Eskimo Pie, a chocolate-covered ice cream bar on a stick, was created in 1934.​

Originally, Eskimo Pie was called the "I-Scream-Bar". Between 1988 and 1991, Eskimo Pie introduced an aspartame-sweetened, chocolate-covered, frozen dairy dessert bar called the Eskimo Pie No Sugar Added Reduced Fat Ice Cream Bar.

  • Historians argue over the originator of the ice cream sundae but three historical probabilities are the most popular.
  • The walk-away edible cone made its American debut at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
  • British chemists discovered a method of doubling the amount of air in ice cream, creating soft ice cream.
  • Reuben Mattus invented Haagen-Dazs in 1960. He chose the name because it sounded Danish.
  • The DoveBar was invented by Leo Stefanos.
  • In 1920, Harry Burt invented the Good Humor Ice Cream Bar and patented it in 1923. Burt sold his Good Humor bars from a fleet of white trucks equipped with bells and uniformed drivers.
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Bellis, Mary. "The Surprising History of Ice Cream." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 29). The Surprising History of Ice Cream. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The Surprising History of Ice Cream." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).