Now Open! Mill River Eatery, our new Pop-Up Dining Hall       LEARN MORE

Welcome to the Mill River Blog

The History of Ice Cream


Chicago is now one of three cities in the U.S. to house an ice cream museum, alongside New York and Austin. The concept of the museum originated in Asia and is designed to energize the senses to reimagine the way we experience and love ice cream.

Museum aside, we've wondered where the idea originated this summer while enjoying ice cream for dessert on a hot day.

First recorded notes of frozen confections

People likely enjoyed frozen confections before recorded history. According to the International Dairy Farmer's Association, Alexander the Great enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. The Roman Emperor, Nero Claudius Caesar (A.D. 54-86), was known to enjoy snow flavored with fruits and juices. It is believed that the first ice cream with a creamy dairy texture came to life as a mixture of frozen milk and rice pudding in China around 200 A.D.

It was Marco Polo who, over a thousand years later, returned to Italy from the Far East with a recipe that closely resembled what is now called sherbet. Catherine de Medici introduced France to similar frozen desserts in 1553 when she became the wife of Henry II of France. England seems to have discovered "cream ice," as it was called, at approximately the same time. It is reportedly a regular dessert at the table of Charles I during the 17th century.

In 1686 ice cream was introduced to the general public by the Sicilian Procopio at Café Procope.Now known as Le Procope, it was the first café in Paris. Procopio's recipe required blending milk, cream, butter, and eggs.

Ice Cream for America

The first advertisement for ice cream in the U.S. appeared in the New York Gazette on May 12, 1777, when confectioner Philip Lenzi announced that ice cream was available "almost every day." However, ice cream remained a rare and exotic dessert enjoyed mainly by the elite until the 1800s.

According to records kept by a New York merchant, President George Washington spent approximately $200 on ice cream during the summer of 1790. Inventory records of Mount Vernon taken after Washington's death revealed "two pewter ice cream pots." During his travels, President Thomas Jefferson brought a recipe for ice cream from France, which is now housed in the Library of Congress. Finally, in 1813, Dolley Madison served a magnificent strawberry ice cream creation at President Madison's second inaugural banquet at the White House.

Ice cream for the masses

When insulated ice houses were invented, manufacturing ice cream soon became an industry in America. 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, new freezing processes and equipment, and motorized delivery vehicles.

The wide availability of ice cream in the late 19th century led to new creations. In the late 1800s, the American soda fountain emerged, and the "soda jerk" profession emerged. The ice cream soda made from carbonated water, chocolate syrup, and ice cream became increasingly popular.

The ice cream "Sunday" was invented in response to religious criticism for eating "sinfully" rich ice cream sodas on Sundays. Soda shops created a new novelty by eliminating carbonated water. The name was eventually changed to "sundae" to remove the religious connection.

Ice cream was a morale booster during World War II. Each military branch tried to outdo the others in serving ice cream to its troops. In 1945, the first "floating ice cream parlor" was built for sailors in the western Pacific. When the war ended, and dairy rationing was lifted, America celebrated its victory with ice cream. Americans are estimated to have consumed over 5 gallons of ice cream per person in 1946.

Introducing premium ice cream

Once grocery stores started filling freezer space with ice cream by the half gallon, the soda fountains started to disappear, and Americans had their ice cream at home. Then came the premium brands like Haagen Daz and Ben & Jerry's.

Haagen-Daz may sound European, but it's an American brand that started in New York. It is a producer of super-premium ice cream made with natural ingredients and without preservatives and stabilizers. The amount of butterfat is at least 15 percent instead of the standard 10 percent. It also has much less air pushed into ice cream, making a denser, richer, and creamier in texture and flavor.

Ben & Jerry's is another well-known producer of super-premium ice cream. The creative variety of flavors and mix-ins make it a favorite for many. They have created celebrity flavors and are known for their philanthropy.

As much as Americans love their ice cream, Italians love their gelato. Gelato has 5-7 percent butterfat because it is made with more milk and less cream, and it is not made with egg yolks. Gelato is also churned at a much slower speed than ice cream making it denser. It's stored and served at a slightly warmer temperature that's not entirely frozen.

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, ice cream is an $11 billion industry, with the average American consuming 23 pounds each year. That may be why food entrepreneurs started opening specialty ice cream stores in recent years. They continue to create new and unique flavors and confections. Thanks to social media, they keep their customers returning for their ever-changing menu. We predict this is a growing industry.

One Small Town. Two Co-ops.
The Pet Food Industry