The Birth of Ice Cream


Do you know how ice cream as we know it came to be? – It may surprise you!

While there is not one specific inventor or birthplace of ice cream, historical references imply that consuming ice cream dates back as far as 200 B.C.!  The beginnings of modern ice cream were more along the lines of today’s snow cones.  Roman emperors would send runners into the mountains for snow, and then flavor it with fruits, juices, or honey.

Fast forward a thousand years and Marco Polo brings a recipe from the Far East back to Italy that closely resembled what is now called sherbet.  It is estimated that this was the beginning of ice cream as we know it, which was formulated sometime during the 1500s.  Around 1660, ice cream was finally made available to the general public.  The first café in Paris, called Café Procope, featured a recipe of blended milk, cream, butter, and eggs.  Café Procope is actually still in operation today, and is the oldest continuously run restaurant in Paris!


It is not determined when exactly ice cream was brought over to the United States, but one of the first mentions of ice cream in America was in 1744 by a Scottish colonist who wrote about the delicious strawberry ice cream he had while visiting the house of Maryland Governor Thomas Bladen.  In 1777, confectioner Philip Lenzi released the very first advertisement for ice cream in the U.S. in the New York Gazette, announcing that ice cream was available ‘almost every day’ at his shop.  New York records show that President George Washington spent approximately $200 on ice cream the summer of 1790.  Today, that equals about $5,000!!

For many years, ice cream was a rare delicacy enjoyed only by the elite.  It required a sufficient amount of money to own at least one cow as well as to afford not selling its milk and cream.  It would require large quantities of sugar and salt, which were imported commodities.  Ice was also a luxury, which had to be cut from a river or lake during and winter and stored in an ice house (another luxury), in hopes that it would last until the summer.  Ice cream at this time was made using the ‘pot freezer’ method, which consisted of placing a bowl of cream inside a bucket of ice and salt.  Thank goodness for modern drive-thru windows!


In 1843, Nancy Johnson patented the hand-cranked churn, creating smoother ice cream than the pot freezer method.  By 1851, a milk dealer by the name of Jacob Fussell had built an ice cream factory in Pennsylvania.  An unstable demand for milk and cream left Fussell with large amounts of surplus, which he utilized to produce ice cream.  His business was so successful that he opened up several other factories.  Mass production cut the cost significantly, opening up the market to people of lower classes and boosting popularity.

In the 1870s, the momentum of the ice cream market was again boosted with the invention of industrial refrigeration by Carl von Linde of Germany.   Like most other American industries, ice cream production boomed because of technological innovations, including steam power, mechanical refrigeration, the homogenizer, electric power and motors, packing machines, new freezing processes and equipment, and motorized delivery vehicles.  Each of these advancements made ice cream even easier to produce, package, transport, and store.

Soda fountains emerged in 1874, and with them came the invention of the ice cream soda.  Religious criticism surfaced for indulging in sinfully rich ice cream sodas on Sundays.  In response, ice cream merchants in the late 1890s left out the carbonated water from the ice cream sodas and invented the ice cream ‘Sunday’, eventually changed to ‘sundae’ to remove any connection with the Sabbath.

By the 1930s, grocery stores were first starting to sell ice cream.  World War II popularized ice cream as a way to boost troop morale and it grew to become a symbol of America at that time, so much so that Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini banned ice cream in order to avoid any association.


Custard Cup started in 1949. It was originally opened by George and Helen Potter in Danville, Illinois. They started selling the custard that Mr. Potter had developed. Business started slow, and it was not uncommon to see George and Helen sitting out back playing cards while they waited for customers to come. The Potters also created our signature cold fudge, to solve the problem of custard melting when hot fudge was put on it. They owned the business for 20 years and then decided that they were ready to retire. The Potters had no children, so they sold “The Cup” to Wilmer and Dorotha Jarling in 1969.  Mr. and Mrs. Jarling watched as the number of customers grew, after school, after church on Sundays, and it started turning into “the place” to go.

In 1983, Jarling’s Custard Cup opened its doors in Champaign at 309 W. Kirby Avenue.  It was opened by Doug and Christy Jarling.  Fast forward to 2016, Doug and Christy Jarling wanted to retire after many years of commitment to the Champaign-Urbana community.  Once word was on the street, there was quickly an overwhelming level of interest and buzz around what comes next for the Cup.  And  yes, there was some tweeting by the famous Tom Hanks.  Amidst an enormous level of inquiries, they sold their business to a small group of local private investors that include former University of Illinois coaches, athletes, and alums as well as a few others that love the Cup.  The Champaign store is the flagship store, open all year-round and the owner of the famous secret recipes.  We hope you enjoy the Cup.  We are grateful for our heritage and are committed, as well as honored, to carry on the tradition.



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