On hot, July days like today, I think there can be only a few things better than a nice, cold bowl of ice cream. I'm probably not alone in this, as it appears to be one of the most popular treats in the English speaking world (and probably much of the non-English speaking world as well).
The origins of ice cream are obscure. From all appearances it dates back to the 1600s. It is known that the ill fated Charles I of England enjoyed ice cream prepared by his chef. It is also known that by the 1700s much of the nobility and the rich ate ice cream. Recipes for ice cream accompanied the Colonists to the New World. Indeed, it seems to have been a favourite with the founding fathers of the United States. One summer George Washington paid $200 for ice cream. Thomas Jefferson paid a pretty penny for a recipe for vanilla ice cream. Ice cream was also served at James Madison's second inaugural ball. Throughout the 1700s, for the most part ice cream remained a treat that only the rich and the nobility could enjoy.
All of this changed in 1846 when a woman named Nancy Johnson invented the world's first hand cranked ice cream maker. The ice cream maker, not terribly different from hand cranked ice cream makers today, required lots of ice, salt, cream, and hand cranking. Nancy Johnson patented her ice cream maker, although she sold the rights to one William Young for a mere $200. While it would be William Young who would make all the money off the revolutionary device, it would be named for its inventor--"Johnson Patent Ice-Cream Freezer." Growing up on the farm, my parents owned an old ice cream maker (I believe it belonged to my maternal grandfather). I can remember many a hot summer evening spent turning the crank on the maker to be rewarded with nice, creamy, vanilla ice cream in the end. It was one case where something home made actually was better than the stuff bought in a store.
Speaking of store-bought ice cream, it was developed not long after the hand cranked ice cream maker. In 1851 milk dealer Jacob Fussell figured out a way to turn his cream into ice cream using a larger version of the hand cranked ice cream maker and a number of ice houses. Despite Fussell's ingenuity, it would be a number of years before store-bought ice cream would be common place. Indeed, it would take the invention of refrigeration before ice cream could be found in stores throughout North America. Once refrigeration had been invented, the production of ice cream took a quantum leap--from only 5 million gallons in 1899 to 150 million gallons in 1919.
One significant event in the history of ice cream was the development of the ice cream cone. Popular legend has it that it was invented at the 1904 St. Louis Fair by Ernest Hamwi, although this does not actually seem to be the case. A resident of New York City, Italo Marciony, filed a patent for an ice cream cone on September 22, 1903. He received that patent on December 15, 1903. This pre-dates Hamwi's claim to having invented the ice cream cone at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. That having been said, it is perhaps fair to say that Hamwi improved upon the ice cream cone (his cones resemble modern day cones more than those of Marciony) and that he popularised the ice cream cone at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
Ice creem parlours started opening in the United States in the 19th century. The number of ice cream parlours would greatly increase with the invention of refrigeration. Ice cream was often served at soda fountains as well, often at the neighbourhood drugstore. Eventually there would develop chains of ice cream stores. In 1925, in Massachussetts, Howard Johnson bought a soda fountain. He did not particularly care for the way their vanilla ice cream tasted, so he replaced it with his own recipe. He met with such success that he eventually opened more stores and sold franchises to the "Howard Johnson" name. The Howard Johnson stores would also expand beyond ice cream to become full fledged restaurants. Eventually they would expand into the area of motor lodges as well. By 1970 there would be nearly 1000 Howard Johnson restaurants across the United States.
It was in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois that the first Dairy Queen was opened by Sherwood Noble, who had worked in dairy products all his life. By 1941 there were 10 Dairy Queen stores. By 1947 there would be 100. Not only was Dairy Queen one of the earliest companies to go into food franchising, they are also arguably one of the most successful. Another succes story is that of Baskin Robbins. The company was founded in 1946 in Glendale, California. Today there ae more than 2500 Baskin-Robbins stores across the United States.
Of course, with the chains of ice cream parlours also came innovations in ice cream flavours. Originally, there were only a few flavours of ice cream--vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry being most familiar. Howard Johnson would expand the number of choices to 28. Baskin Robbins went even further, making literally hundreds of different flavours. In fact, they had enough flavours to have a "Flavour of the Month." The past many years they have even developed new flavours associated with movies (the Shrek Sundae being an example). Nautrally, as the ice cream chains developed new flavours, new flavours of ice cream also became available in grocery stores. Today people have hundreds of different flavours of ice cream to choose from.
As a treat for the nobility and the wealthy, ice cream has been around for hundreds of year. It has been a treat that the common man could enjoy for over 150 years. I seriously doubt that ice cream will ever fall out of favour with the masses, especially on hot, summer days. I rather suspect that there will always be people somewhere in the world eating one of the hundreds of flavours of ice cream.