The Original Milkshake Was Invented At Walgreens, Of All Places

Few inventions in culinary history hold as sweet a place as the milkshake. At the heart of its origin story stands Ivar "Pop" Coulson, a soda jerk (aka a soda fountain operator) who, a little over a century ago, revolutionized the soda fountain experience. Coulson's venture into the world of frozen delights began in the early 20th century when he operated a soda fountain at a Walgreens drugstore in Chicago. In 1922, inspired by the popularity of malted milk and the emerging trend of adding ice cream to carbonated beverages, he embarked on a trailblazing experiment. With the basic ingredients (milk, malt powder, and chocolate syrup) for one of the counter's most ordered menu items already on hand, Coulson ingeniously plopped in a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream to concoct a thicker drink. Lo and behold, the first-ever milkshake!

Coulson's creation coincided with the Roaring Twenties, an era marked by prosperity, innovation, and a newfound appetite for leisure and luxury. As word spread, Coulson's soda fountain became a bustling hub of activity, drawing crowds eager to experience the sensation of sipping on a frosty, velvety mixture that offered sweet relief from the summer sun.

Funnily enough, the word "milkshake" wasn't actually coined by Coulson — and the earliest definition was a bit boozier. The term initially appeared in a British newspaper decades earlier in 1885, referencing an eggnog-like cocktail made by shaking together eggs, cream, spices, and whiskey. However, Coulson's milkshake would go on to become the most famous.

Thank a Chicago Walgreens soda jerk for the milkshake

Ivar Pop Coulson's milkshake quickly gained popularity beyond the confines of his soda fountain, capturing the imagination of soda jerks and entrepreneurs across the country. The milkshake's meteoric rise was further fueled by the proliferation of soda fountains in department stores, diners, and drugstores nationwide. Its affordability, accessibility, and irresistible allure made it a staple of American culture, beloved by folks of all ages.

The 1920s also witnessed the advent of the electric blender, a device that streamlined the milkshake-making process and contributed to its widespread growth. With the flick of a switch, soda jerks could effortlessly meld refreshing milk, luscious ice cream, flavorful syrups, and add-ins into a frothy, delicious drink. Coulson's technique transformed dining and paved the way for the modern fast food industry. Nearly every major fast food chain, from McDonald's to Culver's to In-N-Out, serves milkshakes — whether or not they contain real ice cream.

From its humble beginnings in a Windy City Walgreens to its popularity as an iconic dessert sipped all around the globe, the milkshake stands as a testament to the timeless charm of a classic treat. Today, consumers have endless options to customize their milkshakes with unorthodox ingredients like cake mix, coffee, or even bacon and pickles. Some of the absolute best milkshakes in the U.S. may look nothing like Coulson's original, but the imagination behind them is unquestionable.