Tonya Hopkins, a food historian in New York, recently said that “before there were mechanical ice cream makers, Black people were the ice cream makers.” And one of these ice cream makers was Augustus Jackson, who became known as “the father of ice cream” after inventing a way to make ice cream last long enough to be shipped and sold. Jackson, a former White House cook, figured out how to make ice cream frozen enough while making it affordable to the masses.
Born on April 16, 1808, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Jackson started working at the White House in Washington D.C. when he was just nine years old. He worked as a chef there from 1817 until 1837, cooking for Presidents James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson. He also prepared formal meals at state dinners for dignitaries.
After 20 years at the White House, Jackson left Washington D.C. and went back to his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There, he opened his catering and confectionery business and would acquire wealth by making ice cream.
Ice cream has been around since the 4th century B.C.E. originating from Persia (now modern Iran). And although Jackson did not invent ice cream, he became famous for his unique ice cream-making techniques and recipes. In making ice cream, one of his innovations was to add salt to the ice, mixing it with his new flavors and cream.
The salt did not only make his delicious flavors taste better but also lowered the temperature of the ice cream, allowing it to be kept colder for a longer time. And this helped with packaging and shipping, according to BlackPast. This technique is still used today.
And while most early ice creams were frozen egg custards, Jackson developed a lighter kind of ice cream. Thanks to Jackson’s eggless recipe, many ice cream recipes now do not have eggs.
Jackson’s ice cream business thrived. He packaged his ice cream in metal tins and sold them to ice cream parlors owned by other Black people in Philadelphia for $1 a quart. Before Jackson started making ice cream, it was only the rich that could afford the delicacy. But Jackson’s new technique helped reduce the cost of production, bringing the product to the masses.
By and by, he shared his ideas with five other Black ice cream parlor owners in Philadelphia. They also started doing great with ice cream making into the 19th century but were forced out of business thanks to racism.
Jackson passed away on January 11, 1852. He was 43. Some say that he died a wealthy man without patenting his recipes and flavors. After his death, his daughter took over the ice cream business but struggled to maintain it.
Jackson’s accomplishments have been memorialized by singer Ellis Paul in an eponymous song. A stanza goes like this:
Augustus Jackson was a free black man / A chef at the White House for the Madisons / He came to Philadelphia when they set him free / He started making ice cream on Goodwater Street / And the people came / Calling out his flavors by name