Ice cream float

An ice cream float or ice cream soda (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and East Asia), coke float (United States, United Kingdom, Ireland and Southeast Asia), or spider (Australia and New Zealand),[1] is a chilled beverage that consists of ice cream in either a soft drink or in a mixture of flavored syrup and carbonated water.

Ice cream soda
Soda jerk passing ice cream soda between two soda fountains.
Alternative namesIce cream float, Coke float, root beer float, spider
Place of originUnited States
Region or statePhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
Created byRobert McCay Green
Main ingredientsIce cream, syrup and soft drink or carbonated water

When root beer and ice cream are used together to make the beverage, it is typically referred to as a root beer float (United States[2] and Canada).


The ice cream float was invented by Robert McCay Green in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1874[3] during the Franklin Institute's semicentennial celebration. The traditional story is that, on a particularly hot day, Mr. Green ran out of ice for the flavored drinks he was selling and used vanilla ice cream from a neighboring vendor, thus inventing a new drink.

His own account, published in Soda Fountain magazine in 1910, states that while operating a soda fountain at the celebration, he wanted to create a new treat to attract customers away from another vendor who had a fancier, bigger soda fountain. After some experimentation, he decided to combine ice cream and soda water. During the celebration, he sold vanilla ice cream with soda water and a choice of 16 flavored syrups. The new treat was a sensation and soon other soda fountains began selling ice cream floats. Green's will instructed that "Originator of the Ice Cream Soda" was to be engraved on his tombstone.[4]

There are at least three other claimants for the invention of the ice cream float: Fred Sanders,[5] Philip Mohr,[5][6] and George Guy, one of Robert Green's own employees.[7] Guy is said to have absent-mindedly mixed ice cream and soda in 1872, much to his customer's delight.[8]

Regional names

In Australia and New Zealand, an ice cream float is known as a "spider" because once the carbonation hits the ice cream it forms a spider web-like reaction.[9][10]

In the UK and Ireland, it is usually referred to as an "ice-cream float" or simply a "float", as "coke" is often used generically to refer to any cola in the United Kingdom, and "soda" is usually taken to mean soda water, sweetened carbonated drinks instead being collectively called "soft drinks" or "(fizzy) pop".

In Mexico, it is known as "Helado flotante" ("Floating Ice Cream") or "flotante". In El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Colombia it's called Vaca Negra (Black Cow), while in Puerto Rico it is referred to as a "black out".

In the United States, an "ice cream soda" typically refers to the drink containing soda water, syrup, and ice cream, whereas a "float" is generally ice cream in a soft drink (usually root beer).


Variations of ice cream floats are as countless as the varieties of drinks and the flavors of ice cream, but some have become more prominent than others. Some of the most popular are described below:

Chocolate ice cream soda

This ice cream soda starts with approximately 1 oz of chocolate syrup, then several scoops of chocolate ice cream in a tall glass. Unflavored carbonated water is added until the glass is filled and the resulting foam rises above the top of the glass. The final touch is a topping of whipped cream and usually, a maraschino cherry. This variation of ice cream soda was available at local soda fountains and nationally, at Dairy Queen stores for many years.

A similar soda made with chocolate syrup but vanilla ice cream is sometimes called a "black and white" ice cream soda.

Strawberry ice cream soda

This drink is prepared similarly to a chocolate ice cream soda, but with strawberry syrup and strawberry (or vanilla) ice cream used instead.

Root beer float

Also known as a "black cow"[11][12] or "brown cow",[13] the root beer float is traditionally made with vanilla ice cream and root beer, but it can also be made with other ice cream flavors. The similarly flavored soft drink birch beer may also be used instead of root beer.

In the United States and Canada, the chain A&W Restaurants are well known for their root beer floats. The definition of a black cow varies by region. For instance in some localities, a "root beer float" has strictly vanilla ice cream; a float made with root beer and chocolate ice cream is a "chocolate cow" or a "brown cow". In some places a "black cow" or a "brown cow" was made with cola instead of root beer. In some areas, for example, Northeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, "black cow" is said to mean a root beer float where a portion of the vanilla ice cream and root beer have been mixed together before filling the glass with scoops of vanilla ice cream and root beer.

In 2008, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group introduced its Float beverage line. This includes A&W Root Beer, A&W Cream Soda and Sunkist flavors which attempt to simulate the taste of their respective ice cream float flavors in a creamy, bottled drink.

Coke float

A coke float can be made with any cola, such as Coca-Cola or Pepsi, and vanilla ice-cream.

Boston cooler

A Boston cooler is typically composed of Vernors ginger ale and vanilla ice cream.[14]

The origin of the term "Boston cooler" lies in Detroit, Michigan, the city in which Fred Sanders is credited with inventing the ice cream soda. “Boston” comes from the street north of the New Center Area, a historic neighborhood known as Boston Edison. The name has no apparent connection to Boston, Massachusetts, where the beverage is virtually unknown.[15][16] One theory suggests that it was named after Detroit's Boston Boulevard, the main thoroughfare of what was then, according to the theory, an upper-class neighborhood a short distance from James Vernor's drugstore.[17][18] Boston Boulevard, however, did not exist at the time. The streets and subdivision that became the Boston-Edison neighborhood, approximately five miles from Vernor's drugstore, were not platted nor incorporated into the city until 1891, and its first homes not constructed until 1905, nine years after Vernor closed his drugstore.[19]

It is known that by the 1880s the Boston cooler was being served in Detroit, made with the local Vernors.[14] Originally, a drink called a Vernors Cream was served as a shot or two of sweet cream poured into a glass of Vernors. Later, vanilla ice cream was substituted for the cream to make a Vernors float. Unlike a float, however, a Boston cooler is blended like a thick milkshake. Both Sanders soda fountains and Michigan-based Big Boy restaurants (which had Boston coolers as a signature item until the Elias Brothers sold their franchise to new ownership in the 1980s) used their milkshake blenders to prepare the drink.

It can be found most often in the Detroit region's many Coney Island-style restaurants,[14] which are plentiful because of Detroit's Greektown district influence. National Coney Island is one of the few restaurant chains to list the Boston cooler in its menu. The Kerby's Koney Island chain lists a Boston cooler on its menus, but that variant is actually a Vernors float, as the ice cream is not blended. The drink is also found at many Detroit-area ice cream parlors (including Dairy Queens) and at Halo Burger, a Flint, Michigan based fast food chain.[14]


The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park serves "Butterbeer", a cream soda and butterscotch drink with a creamy foam topping.[20]

Snow White

A Snow White is made with 7 Up or Sprite and vanilla ice cream. The origin of this variation is unknown, but it is found in some Asian eateries.

Purple cow

In the context of ice cream soda, a purple cow is vanilla ice cream in purple grape soda. The Purple Cow, a restaurant chain in the southern United States, features this and similar beverages. In a more general context, a purple cow may refer to a non-carbonated grape juice and vanilla ice cream combination.

Sherbet cooler

The American Friendly's chain also had a variation known as a "sherbet cooler," which was a combination of orange or watermelon sherbet, vanilla syrup and seltzer water. (At present, it is billed as a "slammer".)


At least in Brazil and Portugal, a non-alcoholic ice cream soda made by combining vanilla ice cream andaa Coca-Cola is known as vaca-preta ("black cow").[21]

Vaca dourada

In Brazil, a vaca dourada or golden cow is an ice cream soda combination of vanilla ice cream and guaraná soda.

Helado flotante

In Mexico the most popular version is made with cola and lemon sherbet.

Orange float

An orange float or orange whip consists of vanilla ice cream and orange soft drinks.

Beer float

Guinness stout, Chocolate ice cream, and espresso.[22] Although the Shakin' Jesse version[23] is blended into more of a milkshake consistency, most restaurant bars can make the beer float version. When making at home, the beer and espresso should be very cold so as to not melt the ice cream.

Nectar soda

A flavor popular in New Orleans and parts of Ohio, made with a syrup consisting of equal parts almond and vanilla syrups mixed with sweetened condensed milk and a touch of red food coloring to produce a pink, opalescent syrup base for the soda.[24][25]

Melon cream soda

Cream soda with melon flavor (クリームソーダ) is a common drink in Japan. Melon soda is served with ice and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

See also


  1. "spider, n.4" The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press.
  2. Wenzl, Megan. "The Hidden History of Root Beer Floats in Chicago". Chicago Eater. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  3. "Soda beverages in Philadelphia". American druggist and pharmaceutical record. 48: 163. 1906.
  4. "Ice Cream Soda a New Drink". The Soda Fountain. D. O. Haynes. 20: 66. 1921.
  5. Sundae Best: a history of soda fountains by Anne Cooper Funderburg; Popular Press, 2002
  6. The Three Principal Claimants for the Invention of Ice Cream Soda; Soda Fountain, Vol. 18; November 1913
  7. "Ice Cream Soda Invented By Seattle Pioneer" Seattle Times 19 May 1965. p.40
  8. "Toddler Making Ice Cream Soda". Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  9. "Spider drink story has legs". June 3, 2011.
  10. "Macquarie Dictionary entry for 'spider'". Macquarie Online Dictionary.
  11. "The Milwaukee Journal - Google News Archive Search".
  12. "Letters, Dec. 14, 1931". December 14, 1931 via
  13. "The Cedartown Standard - Google News Archive Search".
  14. Fenech, Jeremy (September 26, 2012). "What is a Boston Cooler?". wcrz. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  15. "Detroit brainteasers", Detroit Free Press (December 31, 2001) pE1
  16. Cruden, Alex, "Five things about Detroit Drinks", Detroit Free Press (October 9, 2006), p.A2
  17. "Griffin, Holly, "FIVE THINGS: About coolers" Detroit Free Press (August 31, 2007)". 2007-08-31. Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  18. ""Daily TWIP: Ice Cream Soda Day", Nashua Telegraph (June 20, 2008)". 2008-06-20. Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  19. "History", Historic Boston Edison Association
  20. "Harry Potter's Butterbeer Recipe Uncovered?". Fox News. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  21. See article Vaca preta at the Wikipedia in Portuguese. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  22. "The Thirsty Reader: A Guinness Milkshake". Kitchn.
  23. Woellert, D. (2017). Cincinnati Candy: A Sweet History. American Palate (in Italian). Arcadia Publishing (SC). pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-1-4671-3795-9. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  24. Goldstein, D.; Mintz, S. (2015). The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. Oxford Companions. Oxford University Press. p. pt848. ISBN 978-0-19-931362-4. Retrieved January 15, 2019.


  • Funderburg, Anne Cooper. "Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains" (2002) University of Wisconsin Popular Press. ISBN 0-87972-853-1.
  • Gay, Cheri Y. (2001). Detroit Then and Now, p. 5. Thunder Bay Press. ISBN 1-57145-689-9.
  • Bulanda, George; Bak, Richard; and Ciavola, Michelle. The Way It Was: Glimpses of Detroit's History from the Pages of Hour Detroit Magazine, p. 8. Momentum Books. ISBN 1-879094-71-1.
  • Houston, Kay. "Of soda fountains and ice cream parlors." (February 11, 1996) The Detroit News.
  • Alissa Ozols (2008) San Francisco.
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