by HEATHER ZAHN, curator, McBride & Dunster Museums

The ALCOA Ice Cream Maker
The ALCOA Ice Cream Maker

ALCOA Ice Cream Maker

The history of ice cream is murky, with many nations claiming to have invented the sweet treat, including Roman Emperors, Chinese rulers, French Kings and even the British.

Ice cream first came to the New World with early American colonists and was written about in North America in 1744.  Few people today would likely recognize this as “ice cream” though, as it consisted of milk with strawberries frozen into a lump.  This system, used for hundreds of years, was called the “pot freezer method” – you put everything in a pot and then freeze it.

It wasn’t until 1843 when ice cream as we know it became a reality.  In September of that year, Nancy Johnson, from Philadelphia patented her “artificial freezer”, which contained a tub, crank, lid, dasher and cylinder.  It is because of this patent for the machine and process, which radically changed the texture (and taste) of ice cream, that Johnson is often considered the inventor of ice cream.  Johnson’s process involved churning the mixture as it froze, aerating  to avoid ice crystals.

Within a few years, a Baltimore dairyman, Jacob Fussell opened the first commercial ice cream factory in Pennsylvania as a way to use up surplus cream and shipped it to Baltimore by train.  For the next twenty years, ice cream shops popped up throughout large cities and began adding more ideas and creations to their lists.  The ice cream sundae was a way to circumvent the ban on selling ice cream sodas on Sunday’s.  At this point, ice cream was an ice cream shop or homemade treat.

By the 1930’s, ice cream had gained incredible popularity – so much so that grocery stores started carrying the sweet treat.  Within the next ten years, ice cream continued to grow in popularity and as a result had become an American symbol.  During World War II, Mussolini banned ice cream in Italy as he felt it was too “American”.  In 1943, the US Armed Forces used ice cream to improve troop morale and become the world’s largest ice cream manufacturers.

This particular “artificial freezer”, which was likely built in the 1930’s, was donated by Bill and Virginia Karr.  It was made by the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) who manufactured numerous products as demos for the use of aluminum, including teapots and ice cream makers.

Today ice cream has travelled even further from its roots and, with the exception of a few gourmet brands, tastes nothing like the old fashioned variety.  Miss the taste of real ice cream or want to share that joy with the grandkids without the hassle?  Join us Friday’s in Steve Kolida park this summer, from 12:30-1:30, as our summer student, Caitlyn, churns the crank on an old fashioned (but not antique) ice cream maker.  We’ll do the cleanup, but if you want a taste, you have to put some muscle into it.