One thing that unites people all over the globe is the love of ice cream. This delicious frozen treat is enjoyed in various forms all over the world, from the gelato of Italy to the es puter of Indonesia.
But the people of the United States are the largest consumers of ice cream in the world, and the the average American eats twenty-three liters of it, every year. Many of ice cream’s most popular forms are American inventions, and ice cream is a fundamental part of America’s culinary culture.
The origins of ice cream go back, long before the United States even existed, to the ancient world. Ice and snow were prized ingredients in the cuisines of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, and China. But ice cream was only made possible by the discovery of the endothermic effect, in which a closed system absorbs thermal energy from its surroundings. By adding salt to a mixture of ice and cream, the melting point of the ice is lowered, drawing heat from the cream, allowing the cream to freeze. This process was first described in the Indian poem Pancatantra in the fourth century AD.
Famed explorer Marco Polo brought ice cream to Italy after encountering it during his visits to China, and the confection spread throughout Europe. Charles the First of England thought ice cream was so delicious that he offered his royal ice cream maker a lifetime pension in return for keeping the recipe a secret, so that only the royal family could enjoy it. Luckily the secret escaped, and eventually made its way to England’s colonies in the New World.
Quaker colonists brought ice cream to America, where it’s mentioned in print as early as 1744. America’s first president, George Washington, was such a lover of the treat that he spent two hundred dollars on it in the summer of 1790 alone. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson also regularly ate ice cream and served it to their guests. In the eighteenth century ice cream was an expensive indulgence, available only to those who had an ice house, but it became inexpensive in the nineteenth century when sellers began to import ice from northern countries. Jacob Fussell of Baltimore, Maryland, was the first to manufacture ice cream on a large scale in the US. Fussell was a seller of dairy products, and when he found himself with a surplus of cream, he decided to build an ice cream factory in Pennsylvania in 1851. His business expanded, and he opened factories in several other cities. The mass production of ice cream increased its
popularity and lowered its cost. A German engineer named Carl von Linde invented industrial refrigeration in the 1870’s, thus eliminating the need to use natural ice, and when the continuous-process freezer was invented, in 1926, ice cream production became a modern industry.
The popularity and availability of ice cream greatly increased in America throughout the twentieth century, especially after cheap refrigeration became common. Ice cream sellers began to compete to offer a greater variety of flavors than their rivals. Howard Johnson’s restaurant chain boasted “a world of twenty-eight flavors” while their competition, Baskin- Robbins, advertised thirty-one, “a flavor for every day of the month.” In the 1980’s thicker and creamier varieties of ice cream were created and sold as “premium” and “super-premium” by brands such as Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s.
The massive popularity of ice cream in the US led to innovations in the way it was served and enjoyed.
American Robert Green invented the ice cream soda in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1874. Green was selling flavored drinks on a sweltering summer day and ran out of ice. He substituted ice cream from a nearby vendor instead, as a way to keep his drinks cool. His invention, the ice cream soda, or “float” as it’s sometimes known, is a cold beverage that consists of a scoop of ice cream in a mixture of flavored syrup and carbonated water. The ice cream soda became a national craze. “Soda Shops” and “Soda Fountains,” manned by “Soda Jerks” proliferated across the US. During the prohibition era, when the sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal in America, these soda shops and fountains helped to replace bars and saloons.
Another American ice cream innovation was the invention of the sundae in the 1880’s. Several locations in America claim to have invented this combination of ice cream with sauces, syrups, and various toppings. Because of religious laws in many American communities it was illegal to serve carbonated beverages on the sabbath, so the sundae was invented as an alternative to the ice cream soda, and took its name from the day on which it was most usually served.
One of the greatest ice cream innovations wasn’t invented in America, but gained world-wide popularity there. Agnes Marshall, an English author of cookbooks who was known as “The Queen of Ices,” was the first to mention the use of an edible cone as a receptacle for ice cream, in 1888. But the ice cream cone didn’t gain mass popularity until its introduction in the United States, at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a world’s fair that took place in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904. In the twentieth century a technical innovation allowed air to be mixed with ice cream by a machine, creating what’s known as “soft” ice cream. The addition of air reduced the cost, and allowed the treat to be served directly from a spigot in the machine. Chains such as Dairy Queen and Carvel arose across America to serve the new delicacy. Americans also pioneered the sales of ice cream from refrigerated vans, known as “Ice Cream Trucks.” To this day, companies such as Good Humor and Mister Softee have fleets of trucks that drive through neighborhoods dispensing ice cream to happy customers across the country.
Ice cream is a delicious treat enjoyed throughout the world, but thanks to the innovations created in the United States it’s achieved a greater popularity here than in any other country. But no matter what you call it, or how you eat it, the love of ice cream is something shared by virtually every person on earth.