Coming up on Saturday, June 20 is a uniquely American holiday – National Ice Cream Soda Day! Because this sweet treat has its roots in the soda fountain just like Dr Pepper, we’ll be celebrating it around here this weekend.
Your first question probably is what is an ice cream soda exactly? It is soda water, syrup, and a scoop of ice cream. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Will Rogers called them “the finest thing that you have ever tasted in all your life.”
It developed out of a uniquely American institution, the soda fountain. Harper’s Weekly November 21, 1891 issue declared, “Soda water is an American drink. It is as essentially American as porter, Rhine wine, and claret are distinctly English, German, and French. The millionaire may drink champagne while the poor man drinks beer, but they both drink soda water.” By 1895 there were more than 50,000 soda fountains in the United States and virtually every one of them was serving ice cream soda. With more than sixty syrup flavors available, there was a taste to satisfy every taste bud.
Before the 1890s, the ice cream soda was made with sweet cream instead of ice cream. Today this type of soda would be kin to the Italian cream soda, a French Soda or cremosa. Three people claim to have invented the ice cream soda.
Up first as a possible inventor is Fred Sanders. He substituted ice cream for sweet cream on a hot day in Detroit when the sweet cream kept turning sour due to the heat. He romanticized the story this way. A newlywed couple came in looking for a refreshing treat. Due to the heat, the sweet cream was sour, so Sanders substituted ice cream in their order. They returned several times always asking for the same thing. Eventually they brought friends and asked for the same sweet concoction. Word spread around Detroit about the ice cream soda. The good citizens of Detroit then spread the word of the new ice cream treat around the country.
Next up is Philip Mohr who lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He had several clients who commuted to New York City for work. One of those commuters who was a regular complained that the soda water just wasn’t cold enough. Mohr decided one day to try ice cream in his sarsaparilla soda and liked it. His employees liked it. He offered it to his customer. He loved it and brought friends to try it. Mohr then began advertising his new ice cream soda with a sign outside and got more even more interest in it. Mohr credited its popularity to his high quality ice cream.
Another potential inventor is Robert McCay Green, Sr from Philadelphia. He is most often cited as the inventor and had some documentation of this new treat’s development. He was a food vendor at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 1874. He served sweet cream sodas until he ran out of sweet cream. He quickly bought ice cream and planned to let it melt, but demand forced him to add the ice cream to the soda water. A lesser known version of his story that might actually be a bit more plausible says he sold soda fountains and heard about centennial. He arranged for a space to display a new elaborate soda fountain, but had to use an older simpler one when his supplier withdrew. A competitor had a showier piece and Green had to be convinced to stay in the exhibition by the committee and friends several times. He hit upon the idea of combining soda water and ice cream to create something new and showy. He used vanilla ice cream and 16 different flavors. Business only totaled $8 the first day. He offered them free to a few people the following day. He also offered uncirculated money as change. Receipts went to $200 per day before the event closed.
Despite its popularity with hot thirsty patrons, the ice cream soda was not well-received by soda fountain managers. It took longer to make. It required more equipment in order to keep the ice cream frozen. Its ingredients cost more, so it was more costly to make. Plus patrons that ordered it stayed longer, taking up precious space at the soda fountain. The goal of soda fountains at this time was to get people in and out, but if they ordered an ice cream soda they were more likely to linger, savoring each and every drop of cold creamy ice cream. Some fountain managers went as far as refusing to serve them unless there were empty seats in the fountain.
But people still asked for this popular treat in droves. The flavors were almost endless – anise, apple, apricot, banana, birch beer, blackberry, blood orange, Catawba, celery, champagne cider, cherry, chocolate, cinnamon, cognac, concord grape, coriander, crabapple, cranberry, cream soda, crushed violets, currant, egg chocolate, egg phosphate, ginger, ginger ale, gooseberry, grape, green gage, grenadine, horehound, java, lemon lime, maple, mead, mint julep, mocha, mulberry, nutmeg, orange, orris root, peach, peach almond, peach cider, pear cider, peppermint, pineapple, pistachio, plum, quince, raspberry, raspberry cider, raspberry vinegar, root beer, rose, sarsaparilla, strawberry, Valencia orange, vanilla, walnut cream, wild cherry, and wintergreen. Which one would have been your favorite?
These days, there are still many delicious variations of the original ice cream soda, including root beer floats, Boston coolers, and pink cows. To celebrate National Ice Cream Soda Day, all you need is soda, a few scoops of ice cream, and a straw! Even better come in and have one made for you at the Dr Pepper Museum soda fountain.
The Dr Pepper Museum is located at 300 S. 5th Street in downtown Waco. During the spring and summer, the Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM until 5:00 PM and Sunday from Noon until 5:00 PM, last ticket sold at 4:15. During the fall and winter, the museum is closed on Mondays; other days remain the same. For more information, visit us on the web at
drpeppermuseum.com. To purchase your own Dr Pepper memorabilia, visit the Museum’s online gift shop.