Today, June 20th is National Ice Cream Soda Day! Given it’s virtually Summer Solstice, I can’t think of a better food to celebrate!

Interestingly enough, just like a “milk shake” in the late Victorian Era was so not the same thing as today’s milkshake, an Ice Cream Soda circa 1885 in the United States is not what we think of when we hear “ice cream soda”. Surprised?

I was. The research exploded. I found patents (in documented use), recipes, original sources, source of said “cream”, American Victorian-era Soda Fountain photographs, and all of that ads up to either one ridiculously long blog article, or a mini-series.

I opted for a mini-series of blog posts, starting with today’s.


An Ice Cream Soda (modern style). Image, courtesy of “Ice Cream Soda Day”, June 20th, on

National Day Calendar and Days of the Year agree that June 20th is the day. As does the Ice Cream Journal. As focused on All Things American-Victorian as I am, I had to wonder where and how the traditions of root beer floats began. After all, both of these “a holiday every day” websites show pictures of ice cream floats. Both explain that ice cream (any flavor) and soda pop (any flavor) makes an “ice cream soda”. Yes, today, those ingredients, combined in such a manner, absolutely do.

We also have a name-brand product known as “Cream Soda”. Its flavor is that of cream mixed with soda water and sweetened:

A&W Cream Soda. Image: Courtesy of Soda Emporium.

Others (such as share recipes for an Old Fashioned Ice Cream Soda:

A typical “chocolate” soda with the addition of chocolate syrup and ice cream (to both sweeten and flavor the plain soda water, “sparkling water”), and…..

…the deliciousness of grenadine syrup and cherries, along with vanilla ice cream for the old fashioned Shirley Temple.

Hmmmm…. Historically accurate, that ice cream sodas were made with ice cream?

Yes (historically speaking), and no.


At first, I believed such references to the truth-about-Victorian-America’s “fancy” summertime drinks to be misrepresentations. Yes, I’m a bit abnormal in my love of Victorian-American facts. Not that it matters, one way or the other. But that truth doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the research.

And, “cream” is a very different ingredient than “ice cream“. Even back then. I know this as an absolute certainty. Because I’m both an ice cream freak and I know what dairy fat (a.k.a. cream) is. I also know what cream-flavored syrup (often spelled ‘sirup’ in original sources) is/was.


As early as 1858 (per the newspaper snip that immediately follows), Wharton’s ice cream soda fountain (in Nashville, Tennessee) offers a frigid beverage from its brand-new fountain, “frigid as the icicles of Alaska”. We all know (and will better as soon as my next article publishes, which features the fountains in use in the era) ice cream scoops at least the size of a hen’s egg are not going to flow through a new-fandangled soda fountain. Cream, however, will. And that cream will be ice-cold. Because that cream has been literally ON ICE.

Wharton’s Ice Cream Soda Fountain advertises in The Tennessean of Nashville, Tennessee, on May 2, 1858.

As I’ll share in my upcoming post, the fountains themselves had been available (but not yet in America) for a long while yet. Fountains were new in The United States, but ice use in the heat of the summer certainly was not new. A luxury item for some, perhaps, but far from new. Last summer, I shared a series of articles about ice cutting, the market of selling ice, and how merchants and individual families used ice to keep perishable food, as well as the “refrigerators” (yes! so called!) charged by ice. Soda fountains definitely operated businesses with ice.

Helmbold’s Drug and Chemical Warehouse, in New York, New York, advertises in 1864 (three years prior to any of the aforementioned “I was first!” claims on the modern-blogs about the history of ice cream sodas–or wait!–maybe they were claiming “I’m first” to substitute ICE CREAM for iced [ice-cold] cream), advertises “Helmbold’s Ice-Cream Soda” with 20 varieties of high-quality syrup, and “cream of pure cream“. Note the advertiser’s claim: “The great objection that many have to the drinking of soda is, that the water is from copper fountains, the syrups made of extracts, and cream of artificial character.” Not at Helmbold’s! Published in The New York Times of NY, NY, June 28, 1864.

Helmbold’s was far from the only soda fountain to use real cream.

Note the advertisement, published in The Baltimore Sun on May 2, 1868, states use of the G.D. Dow’s (patented dispenser–covered thoroughly in my very next blog post!) Boston Ice-Cream Soda Water Apparatus WITH FRESH CREAM, and various flavors of syrup.

Okay. Fresh Cream. Got it. So why is it called “Ice-Cream”?

My theory: Cold cream (not yet sweetened, flavored, or whipped) is called “ice cream” the same way that cold tea is called “Iced / Ice Tea”, or coffee on ice is called “Ice Coffee”.

Ice Tea.

Iced Milk Tea.

Ice Coffee (American).

Iced Water. Commonly called “ice water”.


A.C. Howell, of New Jersey, Patent No. 48,405, dat4ed June 27, 1865, for “IMPROVED BEVERAGE”, specifically noted as “Cream Soda-Water”. Note, in careful reading of the following patent, as Howell lists his ingredients for his “Cream Soda-Water“, not a single ingredient is cream, cream-flavored syrup, or anything of the like.

Note: “Soda water” was a common term that is synonymous with “soda” as used today.

Be it known that I, Alexander C. Howell, of the town of Vienna, in the county of Warren, State of New Jersey, have invented a new and useful composition of material for making a drink, which I call “Cream Soda-Water;” [emphasis added] and do hereby declare the following to be a full and correct description of materials used, and the mode of combining the same for the purpose of producing said drink.


Soda-water as commonly prepared in the shops, it is well known, requires costly and complicated machinery in its preparation, and therefore will, as an article of trade, only justify the erection of soda-fountains in cities and towns of considerable population. Families in the country and in small towns and villages are therefore generally, if not entirely, deprived of the use of this agreeable and healthy drink for the warm season of the year. Soda-powders are sold and used sometimes as a substitute for the more delicious drink of the fountain; but it is well known, also, that this is so inferior a representative of the pure article it is rarely resorted to, except as a medicine.


The object of my invention is to produce an article that can be prepared by and kept in every household, and from which soda-water of scarcely appreciable inferiority to that of the best fountain can be made at once and at any time, and in any quantity that may be required.


To enable others skilled in the art to prepare this drink, I will proceed to state the material used therefor, and the mode of using them.


I take one ounce and a half of super or bicarbonate of soda and dissolve it in one quart of hot water. When dissolved I add thereto three pounds of white or loaf sugar, then take the whites of four eggs and one table-spoonful of wheat-flour, and beat them together and mix them well with the aforesaid compound of sugar, soda, and water. The composition thus formed may be flavored with any of the usual flavoring materials–such as oil of lemon, &c., extracts of vanilla, pine-apple, &c., to suit the taste.


When the soda-water is to be prepared for use, put into a tumbler or other suitable vessel a small quantity of tartaric, citric, or other suitable acid, adding so much water thereto as may be necessary to dissolve this acid, if it be used in powder or a solid state. Then, first shaking the above-described composition, add so much thereof to the dissolved acid–say, one to two table-spoonfuls to a common tumbler–as will give the mixture when made the desired sweetness and flavor, and immediately add or fill up the tumbler or other vessel with cold or ice water.


I do not propose to confine myself to the exact proportions above described in making the drink, nor to the specific materials mentioned. For instance, honey could be substituted for white sugar, thus making an agreeable mead. In some cases vinegar or acetic acid might be used instead of citric or tartaric acids. Brown sugar might, for the sake of economy, be used for white, and the quantity of this and the other materials changed to suit the taste or pleasure of the drinkers; or certain quantities of wine or spirits might be added, if desired.


Having thus fully set forth the composition and mode of preparation of my improved cream soda-water, what I claim therein, and desire to secure by letters Patent of the United States, is–


The drink composed of the materials and prepared in the manner substantially as herein described.







~ Transcription, in its entirety, with care taken to use precise spellings, punctuation, and text in full, from United States Patent Office. A.C. Howell, of Vienna, New Jersey. IMPROVED BEVERAGE. Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 48,405, dated June 27, 1865.

transcribed from the following image:

Howell Patent of 1865. “Improved Beverage” called Cream Soda-Water, as fully explained and all ingredients listed, has no cream in it whatsoever. Letter Patent No. 48,405. This image is not intended to be large enough to read. See the full image here.


In 1885, Canadian James William Black successfully patented new and useful Improvements in Ice-Cream Soda. He figured out how to bottle the ingredients used in the beverage (except the ice water) so when the occasion warranted, people could enjoy “an effervescent, refreshing, and healthful drink”. (No comment on what was deemed “healthful” then, vs. now, and the sheer quantity of sugar.)

In forming my cream-sirup I mix the ingredients in about the following proportions: The whites of ten eggs are beaten to a stiff froth, and to this is added and thoroughly mixed therewith nine pounds of granulated or powdered white sugar. Four quarts of cold water are then added, and the mixture stirred till the sugar is dissolved and a uniform mixture obtained. I prefer then to place in a separate vessel five pints of this mixture for separate treatment, as described below. To the remain in larger quantity of the mixture I add six ounces of lime-fruit juice, or other fruit-juice, eight ounces of tartaric acid or its equivalent–such as citric acid–four lemons, and two ounces of any of the well-known flavoring extracts desired. The ingredients are carefully mixed, and the resulting sirup, which may be called the “acidulated cream-sirup,” is bottled for use. To the five-pint mixture of beaten whites of eggs, sugar, and water, which was separated, as above mentioned, I add eight ounces of bicarbonate of soda and stir well together, and this mixture may be called the “carbonated sirup,” and is separately bottled or placed in a jar for subsequent use with the acidulated cream-sirup.


… A glass of ice-cream soda is readily mixed by placing a small ladle of each kind of sirup in a drinking-glass and filling up with ice-water, which produces a beautiful drink, creamy and foaming at the top. The sirups may be drawn through measuring taps or faucets, which can be readily applied to the jars.


The cream-sirup stored in bottles or jars is quite portable, and therefore well adapted to use on excursions, picnics, &c., doing away with the both of using carbonic-acid gas and the attendant apparatus. …


~ United States Patent Office. James William Black, of Berwick, Nova Scotia, Canada. Ice-Cream Soda. Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 332,134, dated December 8, 1885. Application filed August 3, 1885. Serial No. 173,442.

transcribed from the following image:

James Black Patent, in 1885, for an improvement in “Ice-Cream Soda”, specifically in a recipe which bottles cream-sirup [sic]. U.S. Patent #332,134. This provided image isn’t meant to be large enough to read. See the scanned image in full here.

James Black wasn’t the only one to use a cream-flavored sirup (syrup), even then. The following recipe–which actually uses fresh (dairy) cream along with sodium bicarbonate and sugar (with or without whole milk) appeared in The Standard Formulary, A Collection of Nearly Five Thousand Formulas for Pharmaceutical Preparations, Family Remedies, Toilet Articles, Veterinary Remedies, Soda Fountain Requisites, and Miscellaneous Preparations Especially Adapted to the Requirements of Retail Druggists. Tenth Edition, revised [1897], by Albert E. Ebert, Ph.M., Ph.D. and A. Emil Hiss, Ph.G.[Ph.G. is not a typo]

Cream Syrup and Egg Cream Syrup, 1897 ed. The Standard Formulary, Part 1 of 2.

Cream Syrup and Egg Cream Syrup, 1897 ed. The Standard Formulary. Part 2 of 2.

Find this vintage resource online:

  1.  Hathi Trust Digital Library
  3.  Google Play
  4.  Stanford University’s SearchWorks
  5.  Forgotten Books
  6.  Amazon: Hardcover
  7.  Amazon: Paperback
  8.   One more Amazon Paperback option
  9.  See it on


(wherein Ice Cream Soda, as represented today [ice cream and soda] is historically accurate)


The modern term for “float”, meaning scoops of ice cream in soda, did come about in the Victorian era.

This Victorian Life, a site I recommend, includes original newspaper articles (with superb citations) containing recipes for cream sodas with actual ice cream as part of the recipe (with syrup, soda, and water, and sometimes ice).

Given the finds of  This Victorian Life, I must agree that yes, some Ice Cream Sodas were definitely made with what we today know as ice cream. No doubt.

Other original sources I found myself are less conclusive. The following advertisements show that refreshment shops offered ice cream AND soda water, and would likely put them in the same tumbler if somebody asked for it to be served as such:

O’Connor and Schooler serve “Ice Cream, Soda Water” (and fancy drinks) at their Bakery and Confectionery in Fort Scott, Kansas. Advertisement published in Fort Scott Weekly Monitor of Fort Scott, Kansas, on September 23, 1868. Note the obvious comma between Ice Cream and Soda Water.

Others were far less obvious and open to interpretation:

Ice Cream, Soda water, and other cooling mixtures…. Gerber’s advertised in Atchison Daily Patriot of Atchison, Kansas, on June 7, 1870.

I guess, if you frequented Gerber’s in old Atchison, Kansas, you’d know how he offered his “other cooling mixtures”, and if that soda water was cooled by ice cream… or iced cream.

J.C. Wharton & Co., Dealers In Drugs, Medicines, Etc., No 38 Union Street, Nashville, Tennessee. ICE CREAM SODA WATER. Published in Nashville Union and American of Nashville, Tennessee on April 23, 1867.

The following season, in May of 1868, Wharton’s was quick to remind the public of their fancy Glass and Marble Soda Fountain, and the purity of their Ice Cream Soda:

The Tennessean of Nashville, Tennessee on May 2, 1868.

Given Wharton’s was a pharmacy (druggist), I imagine Wharton’s proudly used a fancy soda fountain, as was “the thing” in spades in the late nineteenth century America. My next post will cover those soda fountains in detail. And if a soda fountain drew those ice cream soda waters, I’m inclined to believe they were cream in the soda (or not)… not a “float”…but, as the original three blog posts I drew from (and cited at the top of this article), it wasn’t long until somebody’s ice had run out and they turned to literal ice cream in the soda water instead of sugar and cream and perhaps flavoring. Makes all the sense in the world.


Just in case you’re confident a “Root Beer Float” always has ice cream floating in that root beer, think again…

Root Beer float made with Cool Whip. Apparently first found in Reader’s Digest, August of 1995), in a Cool Whip Ad. Found today on Big

And in case you thought a “Float” generally involves root beer and vanilla ice cream…

“Green Cream Soda”. Kremer

Perhaps I’ve turned your assumptions and expectations on their heads enough for one day. But we’re not done with Victorian-American soda fountains, frothy and chilled drink recipes, or the American fascination with soda.


Vintage images, patents, vintage recipes (from late-Victorian era publications) for syrups, and more!

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