It all began for the ice cream soda on June 20, 1874 in Philadelphia. Robert McCay Green was selling cold sodas during the city’s sesquicentennial celebration (that’s one and a half centuries, for those of you keeping count).
As the traditional story goes, Green ran out of ice to put in his sodas. Thinking quickly, he borrowed some vanilla ice cream from a neighboring vendor, put it in the soda, and voila!—a delicious dessert was born.
The new treat was a hit, and it wasn’t long before the ice cream soda spread across Pennsylvania, the nation, and the world. Others have laid claim to having invented it, but Green requested that the title “Originator of the Ice Cream Soda” be engraved on his tombstone.
There are many variations on the traditional ice cream soda. The most famous might be the root beer float, also known in some regions as a “brown cow.” A Coke Float is made with, of course, Coca-Cola and vanilla ice cream. The “Boston Cooler,” a glass of ginger ale with vanilla ice cream, was, strangely enough, invented in Detroit and has no apparent connection to the Massachusetts city. And at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction in Florida, you can order a Butterbeer straight out of J.K. Rowling’s famed series (the drink is root beer topped off with butterscotch ice cream).
If you travel outside the country and have a hankering for an ice cream soda, you’re going to have to know how to order it. In Australia and New Zealand, it’s called a “spider” (eww!). In the UK and Ireland, it’s simply a “float.” In Mexico, you’re going to want a “Helado flotante.” In Central America, it’s called a “black cow,” but in the native tongue, it’s a “Vaca Negra.”