TODAY in HISTORY: The First Ice Cream Factory

The first ice cream factory truck belonging to Jacob Fussell 166 years ago today. 

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by William “Doc” Halliday

I scream…you scream…we all scream for Ice Cream!  Doesn’t everyone love ice cream?  Today the average American eats about 23 quarts of it a year―the world’s highest per capita consumption.

When I was a child my father would take our family for a Sunday afternoon drive.  The highlight of our drive was a stop at Green Pine Dairy for ice cream.  My choice was always pistachio even though vanilla is the top-selling flavor with over 33 percent of the market, and chocolate has an additional 19 percent.  Sundays have always recorded more sales of ice cream than any other day.

The beginnings of ice cream can be traced back to the 5th century BC.  Ancient Greeks ate snow mixed with honey and fruit in the markets of Athens that long ago. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, encouraged his Ancient Greek patients to eat ice “as it livens the life juices and increases the well-being.”  The Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar (54-68 A.D.) had ice and snow brought to him from the mountains, which he stored in special rooms under his palace so that he could top it with fruit to enjoy.

While vanilla ice cream is the most popular flavor today, it was quite rare and considered exotic in the eighteenth century.  

France was introduced to frozen desserts in 1553 by the Italian Catherine de Medici when she became the wife of Henry II of France. It wasn’t until 1660 that ice cream was made available to the general public. The Sicilian Procopio introduced a recipe blending milk, cream, butter and eggs at Café Procope which was the first café in Paris.  Until 1800, ice cream remained a rare and exotic dessert enjoyed mostly by the elite. Around 1800, insulated ice houses were invented.  In the United States, First Lady Dolley Madison served ice cream at the second inaugural ball at the White House in 1813.  Philadelphia native Nancy Johnson received the first U.S. patent # 3254 for the first hand crank churn to make ice cream in 1843, the churn was much faster and produced a creamier ice cream than using ice in a bowl, as people had done before.

Jacob Fussell, a Quaker, born in 1819 in Little Falls, MD ran a four-route milk and cream delivery business in Baltimore selling fresh dairy products from farms in York County. An opportunity arose when a dairyman who operated a small catering business that sold a frozen concoction of milk, eggs, and sugar in Baltimore defaulted on a debt to an older Quaker who had no desire to take over the business. The lender asked Fussell to take on the operation.

Scientists wrongly concluded in 1940 that the consumption of ice cream was the leading cause of the polio epidemic. 

Knowing supply and demand of milk was highly unpredictable, Fussell thought that he could use his surplus milk and cream to manufacture ice cream and market it “for 25 cents per quart, delivered in molds or otherwise day and night.” Ice cream at the time was selling for sixty cents a quart but Fussell, selling in volume, was reaping substantial profits.

So 166 years ago on June 15, 1851, Jacob Fussell established the first ice-cream factory in the United States.  At that time, the average American ate just one teaspoon of ice cream per year because of the expense and limited availability.

Fussell decided in the winter of 1851 to relocate to Seven Valleys, PA which was closer to his supplies.  His frosty confection was packed in ice and shipped by rail to Baltimore through the fall of 1854, when he returned his operation to Baltimore.

While vanilla ice cream is the most popular flavor today, it was quite rare and considered exotic in the eighteenth century.  Vanilla was difficult to acquire before the mid-19th century.

There are two more facts that you may find interesting:

There is a fruit known as the monkey tamarind or the ice cream bean that has long bean pods which contain many large seeds, surrounded by juicy white fluff, tastes like vanilla ice cream.  Also, scientists wrongly concluded in 1940 that the consumption of ice cream was the leading cause of the polio epidemic.  This conclusion was based solely on the statistics that there were more cases of polio in the summer, which was also when children consumed the most ice cream.

William “Doc” Halliday, historian & political writer can be contacted at .


William "Doc" Halliday

Historian, Political Commentator

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