Ice Cream Floats: How they Got Started in America

People of all ages love ice cream on a hot summer’s day. A cool treat that has stood the test of time is the ice cream float. Here’s the scoop on how they entered the American ice cream scene.

Origins of Ice Cream Floats

The origins of the ice cream float date back to the late 19th century. Robert Green operated a soda shop in Philadelphia.  His treats were made of carbonated water, syrup and cream.  One day, Green ran out of cream and used ice cream instead. It was an instant success, boosting his daily earnings from $6 to $600. 

Green created the treat while operating a soda fountain at the Franklin Institute in 1874.  He sold vanilla ice cream with soda water and a choice of 16 different flavored syrups. In a published report in 1910, Green said he came up with the concoction to lure customers away from another vendor with a fancier soda fountain.  The customers gobbled it up.

Types of Ice Cream Floats

Probably the most popular float is the root beer float, created by Frank Wisner in 1893.  The Colorado gold miner was inspired by snow-covered mountains he saw on the horizon.  He woke up the next morning, craving vanilla ice cream and added root beer to it.    His creation was named the “Black Cow” by the local children.

In a 2015 survey, 69% of respondents said they have a positive opinion of ice cream floats.  43% said they enjoy floats more often during the summer.  Floats made of root beer and vanilla ice cream appear to be the overwhelming favorite. 

Root Beer Substitutes

If you are not a fan of root beer, there are other beverages that make up a tasty ice cream float. 

Ginger beer is a spicy soda that pops with creamy vanilla or butter pecan.  Vanilla ice cream and orange soda will taste like a creamsicle.   Cream soda is another favorite that tastes delicious with chocolate ice cream. 

Some Facts About Ice Cream

If you love science, you may be curious why ice cream floats in an ice cream soda.  According to, ice cream rises due to a high amount of fat, ice crystals and air. These ingredients make ice cream literally float. 

So, what gives ice cream its rich, creamy flavor? The milk fat.  According to, the creamiest ice creams have about 16% fat while the least creamy have about 10%. 

Ice Cream Float Names

Ice Cream floats are known by several different names, depending on where you live.

In the United States, an ice cream soda refers to a drink containing soda water, syrup and ice cream.  An ice cream float consists of ice cream in a soft drink

Did you know an ice cream float is called a “spider” in Australia and New Zealand?  When the carbonation hits the ice cream, a spider web-like reaction occurs.  In Mexico, it’s called “floating ice cream”.  In El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Columbia it’s called “black cow”.  In Puerto Rico, an ice cream float is referred to as a “black out”.  The U.K. and Ireland call the treat an ice cream float or “float”. 

Craving a Treat?

If you want an ice cream treat or are celebrating a special occasion, Norwood Ice Cream is here to serve you!   We are a small ice cream shop, located in Eldersburg, Maryland.  Each unique ice cream flavor is handcrafted in small batches right in our store.  We caterweddings, parties, special celebrations, corporate events and more.  Drop by for a visit, or call us at 410-875-7238 for more information.