Ice Cream: Cozy up to Its National Day and Month

By Perry Luckett, CoffeeMan1

We’ve written about ice cream trends in 2017 and ice cream churns in April 2018. But now that we’re in the middle of National Ice Cream Month (yes, there’s a month and day to celebrate everything), it seemed a good time to talk about our favorite dessert’s history and status in the United States.

Why we have a national ice cream month and day

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed July as National Ice Cream Month and established National Ice Cream Day as the third Sunday in July. We continue to observe National Ice Cream Day on this day each year. It’s a fun celebration, so enjoy your favorite flavor of ice cream in a bowl, cup, cone, or straight from the pint—with a Koffee Kompanions Kream Kollar ice cream pint wrap to keep it from melting too quickly. The Kream Kollar cozy is insulated with heavyweight Thinsulate (TM) to keep your hands comfortable and ice cream cold in the carton.

Ancient “ice cream” was more like today’s snow cones

Thousands of years ago, people in the Persian Empire put snow in a bowl, poured concentrated grape juice over it, and ate it as a treat. If you’re wondering how they could do this when the weather was hot, you’re not alone. Turns out they were very resourceful. They used the snow saved in cool-keeping underground chambers known as “yakhchal” or harvested snowfall that remained at the top of mountains near the summer capital.

Biblical references also show that King Solomon was fond of iced drinks during harvesting. Nero of Rome enjoyed having runners collect ice or snow from the mountains, then flavoring it with honey or fruit. Alexander the Great supposedly enjoyed icy drinks that had flavoring such as honey or nectar. 

Iced cream (or iced milk) probably began in China

Research on this subject isn’t terribly reliable, but a kind of ice cream was invented in China about 200 BC, when the Chinese froze a milk and rice mixture by packing it into snow. Descriptions of a Chinese frozen milk product appear as early as the seventh century. A poetic description of frozen milk survives from the twelfth century, and the explorer, Marco Polo (1254-1324), is believed to have seen ice-creams being made during his trip to China and introduced them to Italy. A more reliable mention of ice cream being served at the Mogul court occurred in the fourteenth century.

Knowledge of ice cream could have spread overland along the Silk Road routes from China through the Middle East and into Italy, but it seems more likely that what spread west was the knowledge of how to freeze things by the combination of ice and salt. The “endothermic effect” of this mixture draws heat from the liquid next to it, allowing people to freeze fluids and, incidentally, to make ice cream.

Ice cream in the early U.S. depended on Quakers and the rich

Researchers think Quaker colonists introduced ice cream into the United States by bringing their ice cream recipes with them from England. Merchants sold their ice cream at shops in New York and other cities during the colonial era.

Early American leaders, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, enjoyed ice cream. In summer 1790, Washington spent about $200 on it for family, visitors, and friends (a lot of money then). Also, inventory records of Mount Vernon taken after Washington's death revealed two pewter ice cream pots and a 300-piece set for making and serving ice cream. 

Thomas Jefferson returned from France with a recipe: two bottles of “good cream,” six eggs, and a half-pound of sugar flavored with vanilla and then frozen. made his own recipe, and Dolly Madison, wife of President James Madison, served it at the second inaugural ball. For a while, though, ice cream was only an occasional special treat, mainly for the rich. It awaited better production and storage methods to make it available to the public.

Inventors and technology made ice cream a dessert for the people

Like other American industries, ice cream production increased because of technological innovations, including steam power, mechanical refrigeration, the homogenizer, electric power and motors, packing machines, and new freezing processes and equipment.

  • 1800 – Insulated ice houses were invented.
  • 1832 – African American confectioner, Augustus Jackson, created multiple ice cream recipes as well as a superior technique to manufacture ice cream.
  • 1843 – Philadelphian Nancy Johnson received the first U.S. patent for a small-scale, hand-cranked ice cream freezer.
  • 1851 – Jacob Fussell built the first ice cream factory. After that, the invention of mechanical refrigeration kept large amounts of it cool. Other improvements and new inventions in technology helped ice cream spread to the general public.
  • 1904 – The ice cream cone: cozy solution became popular at the St. Louis World’s Fair, putting an end to the laborious process of washing ice cream dishes at soda fountains. Suddenly, ice cream could be taken on the go, and ice cream parlors didn’t need to invest in dishwashers.
  • 1920 – Harry Burt put the first ice cream trucks on the streets. Prohibition caused bars and saloons to convert to ice cream parlors. Ice cream consumption was up 55% by 2025.
  • 1930s to 1940s – Refrigerated trucks were transporting pre-packaged ice cream over newly paved highways to retail outlets across the country. Self-serve freezer cabinets in grocery stores and supermarkets allowed shoppers to buy various ice cream flavors sleeved in different-sized cartons to keep in their refrigerators at home.
  • 1950s – Howard Johnson created menu of 28 naturally flavored ice creams and built a chain of ice-cream parlors and restaurants across America.
  • 1960s to present – You know the story: dozens of flavors, many manufacturers, and specialty ice cream shops emerging everywhere.

Have some cool facts about ice cream history up your sleeve? Let us know in the Comments below.


Mary Miley Theobald, “Some Cold, Hard Historical Facts about Good Old Ice Cream.”

Jake Rossen, "A Cool History of Ice Cream."

Amy Ettinger, Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America.  Penguin, 2017.