Birthplace of Commercial Ice Cream Production

This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXVIII, Number 4 - Fall 2012

The small southern York County borough of Seven Valleys - which counted a population of 517 residents in the 2010 Census - has a lengthy history dating to the earliest German settlers in the mid-eighteenth century. In 1838 after the Northern Central Railroad Company's line linked Baltimore, Maryland, with York, Jacob Smyser and John E. Ziegler opened the first store and warehouse near the station, originally named Smyser. Seven Valleys, close to Hanover Junction, a railroad and telegraph hub which attracted both Union and Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War, was visited by both sides. Northern forces protected bridges over the Codorus Creek, but were routed after the South attacked Hanover Junction. Seven Valleys - unknown even to many residents - earned its niche in history for being the site of the nation's first commercially produced ice cream.

C. Jacob Fussell (1819-1912), a Quaker, was born in Little Falls, Hartford County, Maryland. He ran a four-route milk and cream delivery business in Baltimore selling "country fresh" dairy products from farms in York County. An opportunity arose when a dairyman who operated a small catering business that sold a frozen concoction of milk, eggs, and sugar in Baltimore defaulted on a debt to an older Quaker who had no desire to take over the business. The lender asked Fussell to take on the operation.

Knowing supply and demand of milk was highly unpredictable, Fussell reasoned he could, as a "country produce dealer," use his surplus milk and cream to manufacture ice cream and market it "for 25 cents per quart, delivered in moulds or otherwise day and night." Ice cream at the time was selling for sixty cents a quart but Fussell, selling in volume, was reaping handsome profits.

Faced with the decision to manufacture ice cream close to the market or near the supply, Fussell decided in the winter of 1851-1852 to relocate to Seven Valleys where he contracted a local miller, Daniel Henry, to build an ice house and ice cream factory on Main Street adjacent to the Codorus Creek. He supervised the production of ice cream during the summer of 1852 and for the following two years his frosty confection was packed in ice and shipped by rail to Baltimore through the fall of 1854. Although he moved his operation to Baltimore and abandoned the Seven Valleys factory, the York County community is recognized as the location of the first commercially produced and distributed ice cream in the United States. Fussell also earned the title of the Father of the Wholesale Ice Cream Industry.

On Sunday, July 15, the observance of National Ice Cream Day, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and Red Lion Grange No. 1781 unveiled a state historical marker commemorating the birthplace of commercial ice cream production. After its display at the January 2013 Pennsylvania Farm Show, for which PHMC's Bureau for Historic Preservation developed an educational component addressing the Keystone State's agricultural history, the marker will be erected in spring 2013 in the Heritage Rail Trail County Park at Seven Valleys.

Since 1914, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) has installed more than 2,300 state historical markers throughout the Commonwealth. Information about PHMC's marker program is available online at Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program.

For Further Reading

pa-heritage-magazine-fall-2012_compact.j Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Fall 2012

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Birthplace of Commercial Ice Cream Production