The idea for the ICEE started in the 1958, when the owned of a Coffeyville, Kansas Dairy Queen, Oma Knedlik, started freezing bottles of soda to customers in place of having a soda fountain that had broken. Eventually he decided it would be great to have a machine make the popular treat, and after five years he successfully built a machine to pour a frozen, carbonated drink. Though Knedlik originally wanted to call it a Scoldasice, fortunately for us a smarter marking tilt provided by a friend of Knedlik prevailed and instead it was called ICEE. The same friend, Ruth Taylor, also created the iconic logo and came up with the idea for the beloved ICEE polar bear, though the actual design was created by the Norsworthy-Mercer ad agency.
Knedlik patented the machine in 1960, in partnership with the John E. Mitchell Company of Dallas, with the first model being made from a car AC. By the mid-1960s, there were 300 ICEE machines in existence. The machines still work much the same as the original, though in a smaller, more efficient package. These days, there are some 75,000 across America, with convenience stores, malls, and movie theaters being the most popular spots to find ICEE. According to ICEE, 500 million drinks are slurped down around the world every year!
In 1965, 7-Eleven licensed the machine and began selling the beverages as Slurpees, using brightly colored packaging. To this day, 7-Eleven’s Slurpees are just ICEEs with a different name, despite some fans swearing there is some magical difference. By the terms of the agreement, Slurpees can only be sold at 7-Eleven stores, hence why you can’t find them in as many places as ICEE. Under that same agreement, when 7-Eleven purchased the Stripes convenience stores, its Slush Monkeys are being rebranded to Slurpee. In both cases, the machines and basic mechanics are the same, and most of the flavors as well, though Slurpee also creates its own flavors at times.
ICEE’s are made by mixing the ICEE syrups with water and CO2 gas under pressure and freezing them at 24-26°F. The famous liquid filled barrel is surrounded by the refrigerant to keep the mixture cold, while the barrel spins. As the outer bands freeze, they are scrapped away, making the fluffy texture we know and love. While the full process is a corporate secret, of course, one thing they do note is that sugar is a crucial part of the mix. It is necessary to keep the fluffy texture, which is why the company has never offered a sugar-free variety: none of the sugar alternatives have the same necessary effect that regular sugar does. That said, the company hasn’t given up hope, and meanwhile has introduced real cane sugar versions of classic favorites in hopes of introducing healthier options for the sugar conscious.
While there have been 150 ICEE flavors over it’s 50 year history, and approximately thirty flavors are in production actively, the most popular remain Coca-Cola, Cherry, and Blue Raspberry. The company regularly experiments with flavors, even trying buttered popcorn one time!
In 1988, the ICEE company was purchased by J&J Snack Foods. Today, ICEE is headquartered out of Ontario, California, and has 100 service centers around the country to help keep all those machines running smoothly. Alas, do the special needs of the machine, you can’t get one for your house, but there is probably one near enough to you to get your ICEE hit on.
ICEE website. Accessed September 29, 2018.
Bishop, Christie. “A Glee-Inspired Slushie Food Fight: Slurpee vs. ICEE“. LA Weekly. October 26, 2010.
McCarthy, Amy. “A Brief History of the Slurpee, A Frozen American Icon“. Eater.com. October 20, 2016.
Wei-Haas, Maya. “The Brain-Freezing Science of the Slurpee“. Smithsonian.com. July 11, 2016.
Wikipedia contributors. “The Icee Company“. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed September 19, 2018.