The milkshake as we know it today, an ice cream drink, was created between 1911 and 1922, spun into a wholesome and delicious form by newly invented electric hand mixers and blenders.
The milkshake of the 19th century was exactly what its name indicated—shaken-up flavored milk. A mixologist added fruit syrup to the vigorously shaken milk, and for those who wanted a kick, perhaps a shot of liqueur or brandy.
The 19th-century milkshake vendor often sold ice cream too. One cool drink, an ice cream soda, became a national pastime by the 1890s. Once electric currents replaced hand shaking to mix up concoctions, the milkshake man could offer a cool drink in the form of an ice cream milkshake.
Patent records credit John F. Mains, of Indianapolis, Indiana, for inventing the milkshake machine. On January 31, 1888, he was granted a patent for a machine that agitated liquids. He claimed, “My said invention relates to that class of machines by which a glass of liquid is rapidly reciprocated, and which are used in producing the various cool drinks used in the hot seasons, among which are those known as milk-shake, lemonade….”
As early as 1887, folks were enjoying milkshakes across America. Milkshakes were the new health drink in Kansas City, Missouri. After all, milk was healthy, right? “The really delicious drink, known as the Milk Shake, which is now having such an immense run in the east, has lately been introduced in Kansas City by the Mortons of Ice Cream fame,” The Kansas City Times reported. “In the making of this healthful drink, only the Pure Jersey Milk from their own dairy is used. Call at their place and try a glass.”
In mid-November, the “Sons of the Emerald Isle” held an Irish Day celebration that featured milkshakes. “The milk-shake man always waited till the softest music was on so as to make the boom of his shaker more impressive. Between the milk-shake man, the glass blower, lottery man and the irrepressible small boy, things were kept lively yesterday,” The Kansas City Times reported.
The “Milk-Shake Fad” hit by August 1888. “No country drug shop or cross-roads store is now considered complete without a machine for making milk-shakes,” San Francisco’s Evening Bulletin reported in California. “The milk-shake is the craze, and the city people on their vacations come upon it everywhere. The shake is merely a glass of milk and an inch of fruit sirup [sic]. The glass that contains it is put in place in a machine that jolts and bounces it terrifically for a minute or two, mixing in into a light substance like whipped cream.”
A couple months later, the San Francisco Vindicator reported, “Every first-class soda-fountain now has a milkshake machine…. It is mostly a woman’s drink, but since so many liquor saloons have been compelled to go into the temperance business, has become quite popular among the old beer drinkers…. The man who invented the machine to make milkshakes is said to have made $100,000 already on his patent.”
Even Dallas, Texas, deemed the milkshake a trendy drink for the summer of 1889. The ladies of the Floyd Street M.E. Church held a milkshake and ice cream festival to support the parsonage.
By 1890, hotels and restaurants were selling milkshakes. The Commercial Hotel and Restaurant in St. Louis, Missouri, offered them for five cents each.
Texans loved their milkshakes too. Make the 19th-century version of a milkshake from the recipe shared in the Houston Daily Post on September 2, 1900.
*** R E C I P E ***
1 ups whole milk
2 tablespoons sweetened fruit syrup
2 tablespoons liqueur or brandy, optional ice
Put ingredients in a shaker and shake for a minute.
Strain into a glass and serve cold.
Recipe adapted from Houston Daily Post,
September 2, 1900
Sherry Monahan has penned Mrs. Earp: Wives & Lovers of the Earp Brothers; California Vines, Wines & Pioneers; Taste of Tombstone; The Wicked West and Tombstone’s Treasure. She’s appeared on the History Channel in Lost Worlds and other shows.