The Ice Cream History Timeline

This ice cream history timeline stretches back thousands of years – that’s how long people have been enjoying frozen desserts.

So you want to know who invented ice cream?
Well, as you see below, it’s a long story …

ice cream history - cherry ice cream

400 BCE

The Persians develop a dessert of frozen batter and rose water flavored with fruit and saffron.

400-0 BCE

Alexander the Great (356–323 BC) enjoys snow mixed with honey and fruit flavorings.

0-1000 CE

Roman Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-86) sends his servants to collect snow and ice to be served flavored with fruit and juices.

King Tang (A.D. 618-97) of China served a concoction of frozen buffalo milk and camphor.

During the monarchy of Emperor Yingzong (960-1279), one of his subjects writes a poem entitled Ode to the Iced Cheese – describing something that was probably close to ice cream.

1200-1300 CE

The first documented reference to the process of combining ice and salt in order to drop the ice’s temperature to below freezing point dates from the 13th century, but the process was possibly in use in China long before then. Does this qualify them for the Who Invented Ice Cream title? Well … there still wasn’t any actual cream involved …

Kublai Khan (1215-1294) is said to especially like iced desserts.

1500-1600 CE

Marco Polo returns from China with a recipe for something much like sherbet (using milk, not cream). The truth is this that while this is an oft repeated piece of trivia, historical evidence that Marco Polo really did bring back such a recipe is slim.


Legend says that when Catherine de Medici married the future King Henry II of France, she brought ice cream with her from Italy to France. Thus, the Italians are usually credited with the innovation of using cream – rather than milk – in this way, which may earn them the credit of being the first who invented ice cream.


Bernardo Buontalenti is said to have frozen zabaglione, which is the reason the Italian city of Florence (his hometown), to this day claims to be the birthplace of ice cream.


The first café in Paris opens. It is called the Café Procope – after its owner, a Palermo aristocrat – and on the menu is ice cream. But some historians now claim it was only frozen ices ...


Ice cream history takes another royal step when it is served at the court of King Charles II of England. Legend has it King Charles offered his chef a lifetime pension if he would keep the recipe a secret. No one knows if the recipe used milk or cream.


The first appearance of a recipe for flavored ices in a French cookbook by Nicholas Lemery.


The first appearance of a recipe for flavored ices in an Italian cookbook by Antonio Latini.


The first cookbook to contain an ice cream recipe is published in England: Mrs. Mary Eales's Receipts. Read the recipe here, on our Who Invented Ice Cream? page.

This is the earliest recorded use of cream in ice cream history.


Ice cream makes its way into the Oxford English Dictionary. That same year, it crosses the Atlantic, with the first mention of ice cream in North America: Maryland Governor William Blanden served ice cream to one of his guests who wrote home about it.


The first cookbook devoted entirely to ice cream and ices: L'Art de Bien Faire les Glaces d'Office by M. Emy.


The first "iced cream" parlor opens in New York City.


Thomas Jefferson jots down his favorite 18-step vanilla ice cream recipe. (View it here, from the Library of Congress manuscript collection.)


U.S. President Georges Washington spends $200 on ice cream during the summer.


Invention of the insulated ice house makes ice storage easier.


Dolly Madison serves strawberry ice cream at her husband’s second inaugural ball in Washington, D.C.


The first French cookbook, by Julien Archambault, to mention a rolled-waffle ice cream cone.


August Jackson, an African American chef at the White House, resigns to open his own catering company in Philadelphia. He specialized in creating new ice cream flavors and delivered ice cream to many of the city’s ice cream parlors.

1843, September 9

Ice cream history takes a giant leap forward when Nancy Johnson patents the ice cream churn. Until then, ice cream was made in a pot-freezer – a bowl inserted in a tub of salt and ice – or in a French sorbetiere, a closed pail with a handle.

ice cream history - johnson patent

Nancy Johnson sold her patent to William Young, who called it the Johnson Patent Ice-Cream Freezer.


Jacob Fussell builds the first ice cream factory. His dairy business often left him with excess cream. In order not to waste it, Fussell started turning it into ice cream.

The first ice cream stall opens in London, opposite Charing Cross Station.

The penny lick - a glass base with a depression at the top to hold a small scoop of ice cream (not much more than a lick) – becomes popular in England. The glass was simply wiped clean between customers. The penny lick was banned in 1926 for hygiene reasons.


Robert Greene invents the ice cream soda, scoops of ice cream in carbonated water mixed with syrup.

ice cream history - soda jerk


The first mention of an ice cream costume: The New York Times, June 27, 1887, mentions an actress in “a dress of pink and white stripes, strongly resembling Neapolitan ice cream.”


Alfred Cralle patented the ice cream scoop.

One of the first published recipes for an ice cream sundae appears in the Modern Guide for Soda Dispensers.


Italio Marchioni of the U.S. patents a mold for making pastry cups to hold ice cream scoops.


At least 4 competing sellers at the St. Louis World Fair in the U.S. claim the invention of the edible ice cream cone – which in fact was already well known in Europe long before that.


The first ice cream bicycles appear in London.

Harry Burt of Ohio patents the Good Humor Ice Cream Bar and sells it from a fleet of ice cream trucks with uniformed drivers.

ice cream history ice cream truck c 1925


The invention of the continuous-process freezer changes ice cream history dramatically, by making the large scale manufacture, distribution and storage of ice cream possible for the first time in the history of ice cream.


J.T. "Stubby" Parker invents a cone that can be filled with ice cream and then frozen, to be sold as one unit.


The U.S. Navy builds its first "floating ice cream parlor" for its sailors in the Pacific.


Italian ice cream maker Spica develops a method to line the inside of an ice cream cone with oil, sugar and chocolate, to insulate the ice cream from the cone. The resulting ice cream cone was named Cornetto. It is now owned by Unilever and is one of the most popular ice cream products in the world.


Margaret Thatcher leaves her mark on ice cream history when she and her team of fellow British chemists invent a way to double the aeration of ice cream, resulting in a lighter, softer product, and big savings for ice cream manufacturers. Thus, the soft-serve ice cream is born and becomes immensely popular.

21st Century

Ice cream history is still in the making, with new flavors developed on a continuous basis, and more advanced ice cream makers being designed for home use.


The Ice Cream Maker scoops out its place in ice cream history and goes online.

Photo credits: cherry ice cream bowl by slimvirgin, courtesy of Wikimedia under a CC by 1.0 license.

Make your own ice cream history by trying some – or all – of the flavors on our Best Homemade Ice Cream Recipe page.

Return from The Ice Cream History Timeline to The Ice Cream Maker home page.