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What Is The Oldest Ice Cream Parlor In The US?

Americans love their ice cream. As crazy as it may sound, the average U.S. citizen consumes roughly four gallons of ice cream yearly, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (otherwise known as the IDFA). That amounts to almost 20 pounds of ice cream for every adult and child in the country.

Many may not realize that the history of ice cream in America goes back further than the country's existence. As the IDFA notes, the first mention of ice cream in the United States dates back to 1744 when Maryland Governor William Bladen served it at a dinner party.

What about the general public, though? Per the IDFA, the first ice cream parlor advertisement hit the pages of the New York Gazette on May 12, 1777. A New York City confectioner named Philip Lenzi took the ad out, boasting he offered ice cream almost every day of the week. Reportedly George Washington himself frequented his shop and spent a whopping $200 here in a single year. That would be over 5K in today's money. That being said, one might suspect that such patronage would assure success and cement Philip Lenzi as the founder of the county's oldest ice cream shop. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

While Philip Lenzi may have been the first to offer ice cream to the public, as the IDFA explains, his shop doesn't have the honor of being the oldest in the country. To find that shop, you must look a bit further south. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), it looks like Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, holds the distinction of being home to America's oldest ice cream parlor.

A quaint ice cream shop stands in the Reading Terminal Market. It has stood at this location since 1892 but has a history that goes even further back. As the sign above the shop states, the company has been in business since 1861. Now operated by the sixth generation of the same family, the shop's official name is L.D. Bassett, Inc. Generally, though, it is known simply as Bassetts Ice Cream. More importantly, one and all recognize this humble store as the oldest ice cream parlor in the country, and the brand as the oldest to be in continuous production (via the Ice Cream Directory).

The story behind the nation's oldest ice cream business is truly an American tale. According to Alex Bassett Strange, the VP of distribution for Bassetts Ice Cream, a Quaker school teacher named Lewis Dubois Bassett began making ice cream in his backyard in 1861 (via Pennsylvania DCED). But this wasn't just any homemade ice cream – the large, mule-powered churn Lewis used produced the seeds of the family's future success. Lewis would take his ice cream to the farmer's market in Philadelphia and sell it when he wasn't teaching. Demand for his cool sweet treat was so high that he eventually moved his business out of the backyard and opened a shop at the corner of 5th and Market Streets in 1885 (via Pennsylvania DCED).

Unsurprisingly, demand for the fresh-from-the-churn delicacy quickly grew. Lewis, being a master of business strategy as well as confections, recognized the potential of the then-new Reading Terminal Market and moved his store there in 1892. Since then, the family has operated from this address. Though headquartered in the same place, the company has grown continuously. You can now purchase Bassetts Ice Cream in many of the better markets across the country and multiple countries overseas (via Bassetts Ice Cream).


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