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We All Scream for Ice Cream*

Ice cream and its cousins can be had all year round, but during these Dog Days of Summer when the temperature climbs, frozen deserts are especially welcome.

Considering reliable freezers are a 20th century invention, it’s surprising how long frozen desserts have been around. In China during the Tang Dynasty, ice men produced a concoction of cow, goat or buffalo milk heated with flour. Camphor provided texture and flavor. The mixture cooled in an ice pool.

Roman emperors sent slaves to the mountains to bring back fresh snow that could be flavored to produce a sort of snowcone.

There are two stories about how iced desserts came to Italy. One says Marco Polo introduced them after his return rom China. Another says Italians received ice cream from the Middle East. Arabs drank a chilled drink flavored with, among other things, cherry, pomegranate, quince, or rose water. The Italians mastered the technique and called their invention sorbet.

When Italian princess Catherine de Medici married Henri II of France, she brought iced cream with her (along with forks). In England, Charles I didn’t want to share the recipe and offered his chef £500 a year to keep the recipe a secret.

Ice Cream in America

In 1777 Philip Lenzi, a New York confectioner, put an advertisement in the New York Gazette announcing he would have ice cream available almost every day. He was not the only purveyor of frozen delights. During the summer of 1790, the first ice cream parlor opened in New York. Coincidentally President George Washing spent about $200 for ice cream that summer. [In 2016, the equivalent of $200 in 1800 was $3,809. That’s a lot of ice cream.]

In 1800 ice cream was produced at home using a hand crank. In 1851 ice cream became more readily available, and by 1874 the soda fountain staffed by “soda jerks” became a common sight in every town.

At the time ice cream was generally served with soda (carbonated water), much like a cola float. A glass of soda would have syrup at the bottom for flavor, milk, soda, and two scoops of ice cream.

Ice cream sodas were popular, so popular that churches became alarmed at the number of people indulging themselves at the local ice cream parlor. The result? The Ice Cream Sundae. In 1890 at the instigation of the Methodist Church, the city of Evanston IL passed a law prohibiting the sale of ice cream sodas on Sundays. The law didn’t close the ice cream parlors, however. Entrepreneurs came up with the idea of a dish of ice cream covered with syrup, and called the new item an Ice Cream Sundae, sold only on Sundays.

Another favorite item, the Ice Cream Cone, also appeared just in the nick of time to avoid disaster. At the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, the ice cream vendor’s stand was next to waffle vendor Ernest E. Hamwi. It was a hot day, and the waffles weren’t selling. But the ice cream seller ran out of dishes and needed to move his ice cream quickly. Hamwi rolled a waffle so it could hold the ice cream. Both vendors and customers went away happy.

*Now about that famous phrase: “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” It’s a line from a forgettable silly song recorded in 1925 by the Waring’s Pennsylvanians. In addition to the chorus, the song claims that “Tuesdays, Mondays, we all scream for sundaes.” And so it goes.


Clip Art Waffle Cone.

Marco Polo. Public Domain.

Horlucks Ice Cream Soda Fountain. Public Domain.

Ice Cream Sundae. Public Domain.

Waffle Cone by Bbxxayay.

Inflation Calculator.

Tori Avery. “Explore the Delicious History of Ice Cream.” The History Kitchen. PBS. July 10, 2012.

Jeff Wells. “Ice Cream Sundae.” Mental Floss. July 20, 2016.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


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