The True History of Soft Serve Ice Cream


  • When I was growing up in Alabama, my parents would occasionally treat us kids to one of the famous soft serve ice cream cones, those delicious, creamy smooth and cool summer delights at a famous "Dairy Queen". So naturally, I just thought they were available everywhere in the world, and if not the genuine Dairy Queen, some other brand, but still the great soft serve. Not so! A few months after relocating to the very hot country of Paraguay in 1986, to our dismay we discovered there was no soft serve ice cream available anywhere in Paraguay, and when we asked, no one even knew what it was! So there began our history of being in the ice cream business.....we saw the need....we needed some income.....this was an we started the very first soft serve ice cream business in Paraguay, and we are very proud of that. In addition to being proud, it served us well and provided an income surpassing anything we dreamed of. We owned, operated, and expanded our little roadside ice cream shop several times before we sold the business and relocated to Chile in 2003. But I was always curious about how soft serve got started originally, so in checking many internet sources, I found there are actually three different stories about the history of soft serve and how it began, so I'll present them all here and leave it for you, the reader, to decide which story is correct, or maybe they are all correct?
  • J. Dean Moore, 21 June, 2010

    soft serve

    Historical Discrepancy

  • According to "Chocolate, Strawberry and Vanilla: A History of American Ice Cream," the invention of soft-serve ice cream, sometimes referred to as frozen custard, took place sometime in the mid-1930s, almost 200 years after ice cream first made an appearance in the United States. But there seem to be two primary competing claims to the invention of soft-serve ice cream. In one version, the founders of the Dairy Queen chain created this variation on the frozen treat. In another, a man named Thomas Carvelas (or Carvellus) stumbled upon soft-serve ice cream.
  • The Dairy Queen Story

  • According to the book "The Cone with the Curl on Top," a history of Dairy Queen, J.F. McCullough and his son, Alex, opened an ice cream shop in 1927 in Davenport, Illinois. In the early 1930s, they moved to an ice cream factory in Green River, Illinois, and decided to find out if customers preferred ice cream before it was completely frozen, which was how they liked it best. The colder ice cream had less flavor than the softer version, they felt. After an experimental, all-you-can-eat sale in Kankanee, Illinois, where they found the softer ice cream was a success, they bought a machine from a street vendor in Chicago in 1939, had a machine company tweak the design, and sold their frozen custard exclusively to a store run by Sherb Noble in Joliet, Illinois, in 1940. They nicknamed the store Dairy Queen. They bought a second store in 1941, and a third that spring.
  • Carvel's Story

    Soft serve twist
  • The history books generally give credit for launching the category of frozen custard, or soft-serve ice cream, Original Carvel Store to Thomas Carvellus, who sold ice cream from the back of his vending truck. As the story goes, he got a flat tire in Hartsdale, New York during the 1934 Memorial Day Weekend; his ice cream started to melt so he started to sell it the partially melted, creamy stuff as something new. It was a huge hit and soft ice cream was born—or perhaps, born again. He opened a modest Carvel Frozen Custard store in 1934 in Hartsdale, and in 1936, according to the company website, he opened another ice cream store named Carvel, and went to work developing ice cream machinery. He built his first soft-serve ice cream machine in 1939—20 years after Archie Kohr and his futuristic-looking machine above at left. Carvel was a true innovator: he was the first to offer “buy one, get one free”; the first to franchise an ice cream store; and his patented glass building was copied by McDonald’s. Dairy Queen opened its first soft-serve ice cream store in Joliet, Illinois in 1940. Carvel’s Flying Saucer sandwich was introduced in 1951.
  • Kohr's Story

  • In 1917, a school teacher from York, PA named Archie Kohr purchased a locally made ice cream machine that was powered by a gasoline engine. He and his younger brothers, Elton and Lester, wanted to expand the dairy business they ran from the family's farm. The fresh homemade ice cream was a popular addition to the milk delivered door to door by the Kohr brothers' horse-drawn wagon. They experimented with the recipe. It now had less fat and less sugar for a smoother, lighter product. Archie and Elton were not satisfied. They dismantled the machine, changed some parts and adjusted others. When they put their modified machine back together and ran the new recipe through it, what came out was something unlike any other dairy treat they had ever tasted. It was silky and creamy, cold and refreshing. Sylvester Kohr, their uncle, urged the brothers to take their new machine and frozen dessert to the shore. Following his advice, the Kohr brothers set up a small booth on the bustling boardwalk of Coney Island in 1919. On their very first weekend, they sold more than 18,000 cones at a nickel each. They knew they were on to something great! To prevent the "Frozen Dessert" from melting too fast in the salt air at the beach, Archie, Elton and Lester added eggs to the recipe which stiffened the product - it worked perfectly. Incorporating the improved recipe with the use of their new machine, they created a light and fluffy product that "tasted just like a custard" - the first and the Original frozen custard. Over the years the business grew, but Elton decided to venture out on his own in 1923. Later, in 1927, Morgan Kohr (a fourth brother) joined Archie & Lester to help expand Kohr Bros.® stores up and down the East Coast. Now, there are Kohr Bros.® stores in ten states. The company's business is based on three very important principles : Quality, Cleanliness and Customer Service.
  • What Happened Next

  • The McCulloughs continued to improve the design of their soft-serve machine and expand their business. Carvel continued to expand its chain aggressively, too, as did another competitor, Tastee-Freez. By 1956, soft-serve ice cream consumption was increasing 25 percent every year, according to the U.S. Department of agriculture. That same year, Tastee-Freez had 1,500 stores, and Carvel had 500, according to "Chocolate, Strawberry and Vanilla: A History of American Ice Cream." In 1984, Dairy Queen introduced the Blizzard treat, a mix of soft-serve ice cream and toppings, and sold 100 million the first year. Today, as in 1919, Kohr Bros.® Original Frozen Custard is lower in fat and sugar than ice cream. Archie Kohr's original recipe is still produced under the watchful eye of the Kohr family. We offer single flavors or twist combinations - from traditional vanilla and distinctive chocolate to our wide variety of real fruit and other delicious flavors. Kohr Bros.® Frozen Custard is the foundation for our shakes and malts, refreshing Cruisin' Smoothies®, scrumptious Snowstorms® and tempting sundaes. Kohr Bros.® Frozen Custard continues to delight customers of all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens. With less fat and sugar than ice cream, Kohr Bros.® has broad-based customer appeal that suits every taste.

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    Updated November 2013