Kitchen Collectibles: Ice Cream Freezers

Aug 2, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Diana Bulls, Food Fun, Hometown History

by Diana Bulls

Ice cream recipe at the end of this post.


One of my fondest childhood memories of summer is homemade ice cream. For no particular reason, other than it was hot, Mom would mix up a batch of ice cream and Daddy would get the old White Mountain, hand-cranked freezer out of the tank house. The filled freezer container would go in the wooden bucket, and Daddy would layer in the ice and salt, and finally the cranking mechanism.

ice cream

Vintage tin freezers: 1 quart pat. June 21, 1910 (no maker's mark) and a 2 qt Dandy by New Standard Co., Mt. Joy, Penn. U.S.A.

Now I need to tell you that this particular freezer had been around since my Dad was a kid, and maybe even longer than that! In other words, it had seen better days. The bar that held the parts that made the crank work tended to slip, so one of us kids had to sit on top of it while Daddy turned the crank. It was a cold seat, but whoever stuck it out the longest got first dibs on cleaning the dasher! After the churning was done, Daddy packed more ice in the tub and then wrapped it in burlap sacks and left it in the tank house to “cure.”

I grew up in a family compound, on a fruit ranch North of Parlier. We lived in the original (although remodeled and added on to) house built in the 1890s, my grandparents lived in a house built in the 1920s, and my great aunt and uncle lived in the “new” house built after WWII. You could compare it to a cul-de-sac in today’s housing developments.

After dinner, we would all gather under the walnut trees in Grandma’s side yard. The adults lounging in those old green and white stripped canvas yard chairs, and my two brothers and I lolling on the violets (that’s right, violets–they grew like thick weeds under the walnut trees), and everyone had a bowl of delicious homemade ice cream and some of Grandma’s cookies. Those were the best times. I liked to be really quiet, so I could listen to the adults talk. Pretty soon the stars would come out, along with the mosquitoes, and then it was time for bed.

Now days, it seems we only make homemade ice cream for the annual Fourth of July picnic, and then with an electric freezer. We still use Mom’s recipe, but freezing the ice cream just isn’t quite the same.

Ice Cream Has Been Around a Long Time

You might think that ice cream is a fairly modern invention, but people–well wealthy people–have been enjoying ice cream or something like ice cream for thousands of years. Really! Around 2000 B.C., those clever Chinese packed a mixture of snow and saltpeter (potassium nitrate) around a jar filled with fruit syrup or milk, rice and spices. Just like salt raises the boiling point of water, it also lowers the freezing point to zero.

The Chinese introduced frozen desserts to the Persians, who introduced them to the Greeks, who then introduced them to the Romans, and so on. By 1500 A.D., the Renaissance in Italy gave birth to the forerunner of today’s ice cream. Bernardo Buontalenti of Florence invented gelato, and it spread to the rest of Europe.

As I said, only the wealthy could afford ice cream. Refined sugar was expensive, as was ice that was cut in the winter and then stored underground for use in the summer. Making ice cream was labor intensive. Ice had to be chipped by hand and then packed with rock salt in a large tub. Then cream, milk, sugar and flavoring had to be mixed and then poured into another container that was placed in the ice/salt. These ingredients had to be stirred constantly, by hand, for several hours, so they would turn into ice cream and not ice crystals. It all had to be served right away because there was no way to keep it frozen. It probably took half a day to make, just so the very rich could enjoy five minutes of ice cream.

Ice cream first made its appearance in the United States around 1744 at a dinner party at the governor’s mansion in Maryland. The first advertisement for ice cream appeared in the New York Gazette in 1777, when confectioner Philip Lenzi announced ice cream was available “almost every day”. Records also show that President George Washington spent approximately $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790. Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for vanilla ice cream, written in his own hand, is in the Library of Congress, and Dolley Madison, the famous Washington hostess, served a strawberry ice cream creation at her husband’s second inaugural banquet in 1813.

It Took a Woman to Invent the Ice Cream Freezer

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A copy of the original patent for Nancy Johnson's invention.

In 1843, Nancy Johnson, a New England housewife, invented a crude but easy-to-use hand-cranked ice cream maker. It had a movable crank and a center paddle to churn the mix around. After turning the crank for 45 minutes or so, the ice cream was done. She received a patent on September 9, 1843 in Philadelphia. Unfortunately she did not have enough finances to produce her invention, so she sold the patent to William Young, a kitchen wholesaler, for $200. He marketed the machine as the Johnson Patent Ice-Cream Maker.

Within a short amount of time, there were over 70 improvements made, and in 1853, one of the best known ice cream freezer makers, White Mountain, started business. Today, White Mountain continues to sell thousands of hand-crank machines every year, even though electric freezers have been available for 50 years.

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White Mountain Freezer, pat. June 12, 1923, 6 qt. Notice the oil hole below the W for serving the churning mechanism.

Jacob Fussell opened the first commercial ice cream factory in 1850 in Baltimore, Maryland, and he became the father of the wholesale ice cream industry. He eventually sold his business to Borden. German engineer Carl von Linde developed industrial refrigeration in the 1870s, which eliminated the need to cut and store natural ice. In 1926, the continuous-process-freezer was perfected and that allowed for commercial mass production. Grocery stores started selling ice cream in the 1930s and by that time, ice cream had pretty much become an American symbol. In fact, during WWII, Mussolini banned ice cream in Italy just because of that reason. It’s also interesting to note that in 1943, the U.S. Armed Forces was the world’s largest ice cream manufacturer. It seems that ice cream was very good for troop morale!

Summer Staples: Ice Cream Sundaes and Ice Cream Cones

Ice cream sundaes appeared on the scene about 1880. Buffalo, NY; Evanston, IL; Two Rivers, WI; and Ithaca, NY all claim to have invented the sundae. Whoever was the inventor, the reason was because the American “blue laws” did not allow soda to be sold on Sundays. Some enterprising soda shop came up with this way to circumvent the law. They used the ice cream and syrup, and left out the soda, hence the “sundae”.

Some say the ice cream cone was invented in Paris, but there is some controversy about the cone being made of glass or being edible. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, the first edible ice cream cone was produced in New York City in 1896 by an Italian immigrant, Italo Marchiony, who was granted a patent in 1903 for “small pastry cups with sloping sides.”

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Ice Cream can and dasher from a White Mountain freezer.

The second American edible cone was accidentally “discovered” at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. There were about 50 ice cream concession stands at the Fair. The story goes that Ernest Hamwi, a Syrian usually credited for the “invention”, was selling a crisp, waffle-like pastry called zalabia (much like Italian pizzelle). During the day, the ice cream vendor next to him ran out of clean glass dishes. Hamwi rolled one of his wafer-like waffles into the shape of a “cone”; it cooled in a few seconds and the ice cream vendor was able to put a scoop of ice cream in it. The ice cream cones–known as cornucopias–became a hit of the Exposition. Enterprising locals quickly capitalized on the invention, creating special baking equipment to make cones to supply the crowds. Hamwi himself went on to found the Cornucopia Waffle Company.

I should say here, that the total success of the ice cream cone required the invention of the ice cream scoop, but that’s another article.

Did Ice Cream Change the World?

You tell me. Can you actually imagine life without ice cream? Nancy Johnson’s invention enabled people to make ice cream easily, and opened the door to ice cream as a commercial business. Today, we can buy ice cream almost everywhere. And just think, none of that would have happened if it wasn’t for the ice cream maker.

ice cream

2 quart Cuisinart makes ice cream, sherbet and gelato. It uses no ice or salt; just keep the can in the freezer and you can have ice cream in 20 minutes.


Marilynne Dutcher’s Tried and True Ice Cream Mix for 6 qt. freezer
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
6 eggs, beaten
1 C sugar
4 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla
1 pt. whipping cream
1 qt. half & half

Mix everything together and pour into can. Add milk to can fill line. Freeze.

“Pop” Ice Cream (compliments of Lois Strole)
Basic Recipe for 4 qt. freezer:
2 cans sweetened condensed milk (3 cans for 6 qt. freezer)
Fill freezer can to fill line with pop. Freeze

1. Root beer is excellent–tastes like a root beer float!
2. Strawberry pop is wonderful; add a basket or so of crushed, fresh strawberries.
3. Use Mt. Dew with a quart or quart and a half of peaches or nectarines, pureed.

2. Bellis, Mary. “History of Ice Cream.” Inventors. 23 Apr. 2012.
3. Cohen, Gail. About Early Ice Cream Machines.
Goff, Douglas. Dairy Science and Technology. Ice Cream History and Folklore. 1996.
4. Pickney, Ernie. Ice Cream Journal. Ice Cream History: The First Ladies of Ice Cream. 2008.

Check out more of Diana’s home collectible articles here in KRL’s Hometown History section.

Diana Bulls is an ongoing contributor to our
Hometown History section, having collected vintage kitchen utensils for over 40 years; she is also actively involved with the Reedley Historical Society.


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