The popular legend of ice cream's origin suggests it was invented by the ancient Chinese, brought to Italy by Marco Polo, to France by Catherine de Medici, and then to America by Thomas Jefferson, but the real history is unclear.
Iced desserts and drinks have been enjoyed for thousands of years, with early examples including icehouses built in Mesopotamia, snow sold in Athens, and iced water buffalo milk drinks in Tang dynasty China.
Chilled refreshments were popular in the Islamic world too, with sherbet and faloodeh being enjoyed in Persia, while Mughal emperors in India savored kulfi, a type of quasi-ice cream made from condensed milk.
The earliest evidence of frozen sherbets, ice creams, and kulfi are nearly contemporary, with their breakthrough possible due to the knowledge of using ice mixed with salt for a lower freezing point, creating a scoopable frozen foam when stirred regularly to prevent large ice crystals from forming.
Ice creams and water ices likely originated in Italy during the early 1600s and were popularized in France, Naples, Spain, and England by the end of the century, with the first recorded mention of ice cream served to King Charles II in 1672.
Ice cream made its way to America with European colonists and was served as early as 1744 in colonial Maryland, with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both being early adopters of the dessert.
George Washington Served Ice Cream
In the late 19th century, America saw a surge of ice cream innovation, with the invention of the ice cream soda, the ice cream sundae, edible ice cream cups, and the popularization of milkshakes as a health drink.
The waffle cone and Popsicle gained popularity in the early 1900s, while Dairy Queen and Carvel both claim to have invented soft-serve in the 1930s, and frozen yogurt was introduced in the 1970s.
Nowadays, ice cream and other frozen treats are beloved globally, with even Antarctica importing a Frosty Boy soft-serve machine that serves as a famous gathering spot for the scientists at McMurdo Station.