Robert McCay Green, from Philadelphia, PA invented the drink way back in 1874, during the sesquecentennial (150 years) celebration of the Frankin Institute. The Soda Fountain Magazine (yep, there really was one of those) published an article in 1910, written by Green himself, giving his account of how the ice cream soda came to be.
In the article,Mr. Green stated that he wanted to create a new treate, one that would lure customers away from his competitor who had a bigger and fancier soda fountain. He did a little experimenting and decided to add ice cream to soda water. Since it worked out really well, during the sesquecentennial, he offered vanilla ice cream mixed with plain soda water and a choice of 16 flavored syrups. It was a huge success! Not long after, other soda fountains began serving ice cream floats. There are at least three other claimants to the invention of the ice cream soda, including one of Green's own employees.
The icy cold beverage became very popular, especially with young adults. Teen movies from the 1950's and 60's often portray groups of high school students meeting up at the soda fountain after school, often sharing a malt or ice cream soda. The soda fountain of yesteryear was the equivalent of today's mall; the teenager's first choice to hang out with their friends.
According to early accounts, the beverage was so popular that some governments either ban it entirely, or at least on holy days. In the early days, carbonated drinks were marketed as as "miracle cures" and often required oversight and control, like alcohol and and other controlled substances, and could not be sold on Sundays. Looking for a new way to make a profit on Sundays, owners of the soda fountains began serving ice cream with a syrup topping. These were considered food products and were not controlled substances. Soda fountains coined the term "Sundaes" for their new concoctions that they served on 'soda's day of rest.'
There are many regional variations, and names, for ice cream sodas. Some of the most popular are: the always-tasty chocolate ice crea soda, the root beer float (also known as a brown cow, or a brown toad in Lily Pad), Coke float (or black cow), Boston Cooler (ginger ale and vanilla ice cream), Butterbeer (cream soda and butterscotch ice cream) and the Snow White (Sprite and vanilla ice cream).
Here are a few favorites from around the world:
The Snow White has become very popular in many Asian eateries; Vaca Preta- Brazil and Portugal's version of a Coke float, is the Vaca Dourada (golden cow) - Brazilians mix vanilla ice cream with guarana soda; and the Helato Flotante - A Mexican drink of Coke and lemon sherbert.
Robert McCay Green's final instructed that the words "Originator of the Ice Cream Soda" be engraved on his tombstone.
No matter how you make 'em, ice cream sodas are a stable during the summer. And since today is National Ice Cream Soda Day, why not invent your own special flavor? I'm thinking of mixing a lemon/lime soda with pistachio ice cream, and adding a drop or two of green food coloring. I'l call it the Little Green Frog. Think it'll catch on?