Ice cream’s origins are known to reach back as far as the second century B.C., although no specific date or inventor has been credited with its discovery. Alexander the Great enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. During the Roman Empire, Nero Claudius Caesar frequently sent runners into the mountains for snow, which was then flavored with fruits and juices. Over a thousand years later, Marco Polo returned to Italy from the Far East with a recipe that closely resembled sherbet. Historians estimate that this recipe evolved into ice cream sometime in the 16th century. In England it was called “Cream Ice.” France was introduced to similar frozen desserts in 1553 by the Italian Catherine de Medici when she became the wife of Henry II of France.
Until 1800, ice cream remained a rare and exotic dessert enjoyed mostly by the elite. Manufacturing ice cream soon became an industry in America. Ice cream production increased because of technological innovations, including mechanical refrigeration, electric power and motors, packing machines, and new freezing processes and equipment. Today’s total frozen dairy annual production in the United States is more than 1.6 billion gallons.
Wide availability of ice cream in the late 19th century led to new creations. In 1874, the American soda fountain shop emerged with the invention of the ice cream soda. In response to religious criticism for eating sinful rich ice cream sodas on Sundays, ice cream merchants left out the carbonated water and invented the ice cream “Sunday” in the late 1890s. The name was eventually changed to “sundae.”
Ice cream became an edible morale symbol during World War II. Each branch of the military tried to outdo the others in serving ice cream to troops. In 1945, the first “floating ice cream parlor” was built for sailors in the western Pacific. When the war ended, and dairy product rationing was lifted, America celebrated its victory with ice cream. Americans consumed over 20 quarts of ice cream per person in 1946.
As more prepackaged ice cream was sold through supermarkets, traditional ice cream parlors and soda fountains started to disappear. Now, specialty ice cream stores and unique restaurants that feature ice cream dishes have surged in popularity.