How National made ice cream ‘pure’
Scientific ice cream was a surprising thing 100 years ago.
Today we take for granted that chemists might supervise the manufacture of commercial ice cream and — of course — our ice cream contains only sanitary ingredients. But in 1921, the public had every right to be dazzled by an ice cream made by scientists who used only the best, most pure air.
In Little Rock, the National Ice Cream Co. at Third and Rock streets supplied such scientifically manufactured ice cream to soda fountains, stores and individuals in most counties in Arkansas. The company formed in 1918 through the merger of Watson & Aven with Muswick & Summerfield, manufacturers of high grade ice creams and distributors of something called “Dry Cook’s Beverage.”
By 1920, National’s 20 trucks assured prompt, efficient service “at all times” to its customers, according to a story in the Aug. 8 Arkansas Gazette that marveled over the chemist in charge of National’s laboratory.
Arkansans could make ice cream at home or buy it at a store, but only the National Ice Cream Co. guaranteed the purity of the air in its ice cream. Only National used the “carbonated process” developed by one W. Paul Heath, supposedly famous food scientist of Chicago or maybe Spokane, Wash.
Only National did that … in Arkansas. Turns out, the Heathmade or Heathized method was employed by ice cream manufacturers around the nation. In digitival troves (“digital archives” — get it?) such as chroniclingamerica.com, newspapers.com and the like, one reads ads for different companies extolling their scientific ice cream in 1921 and thanking Heath.
I also found him quoted in industry and retail journals dated 1920 to 1923, including The Dairy Record, The Soda Fountain, The New York Produce Review and American Creamery, and Drugstore Merchandising: National Drug Clerk.
But I can’t be confident I found information about him in other sources, because the ice cream ads never state his first name. Possibly he was Wilfred Paul Heath, who in 1915 was a chemist for the E. Cobb Co. in St. Paul, Minn. I feel confident he was not William Pratt Heath, another food scientist whose pioneering work with carbonation led to a founding role in the Coca-Cola Co. That Dr. Heath’s obits say nothing about ice cream, and his memorial at findagrave.com doesn’t list a brother named W. Paul.
So, what was W. Paul Heath’s innovation?
According to a large ad in the April 29, 1921, Gazette, it was a way of using carbon dioxide to replace the “common” air inside the chamber where ice cream was mixed with air. The ad quoted a lengthy essay supposedly written by Heath, “What Is Carbonated Ice Cream?” He made these points:
■ An ordinary ice cream maker
pollutes good ingredients by combining them with common air.
He takes a collection of absolutely pure ingredients and then deliberately adds to them air which is never perfectly pure and often is dangerously impure.
■ If you examine ice cream under a microscope, you will see that all through it are tiny bubbles or cells. These cells — “full of atmosphere” — make ice cream soft and easy to eat. Without them, ice cream would be ice.
■ Mixing common air with ice cream is always dangerous. It is laden with dust and dirt.
At first he tried to freeze ice cream in a vacuum, but that proved impractical. After years of work, he realized the best choice was carbonation.
The result is carbonated ice cream. You can say it is 100 times purer than ordinary ice cream, or you can say it is one thousand times purer. The figures make no difference because it is infinitely more pure.
■ Carbonating removes the last trace of danger from ice cream.
I do not say that other ice cream is dangerous, but it might be, and you can’t afford to risk even that chance of danger. Today, people can carbonate ice cream at home if they have a mind to. In May 2020, two chemists at Cornell University obtained a patent for their process of using carbonation and a vacuum to create instant ice cream. You can read about it at arkansasonline.com/412instant.
There’s more to say about National. For instance, it lost $300 April 12, 1921, in a burglary. In 1922, it switched packaging to an innovative paper cylinder that looks sort of like the spiral paper tubes instant biscuits pop out of today.
And later that same year, National began selling an “ice cream delicacy” shaped and colored like a slice of watermelon, complete with edible “seeds.” You’ll never guess what they called it. “Picaninny Freeze.” The ads featured an insulting caricature of a Black child.
Just when you think these old stories are nothing but fun, the very air is contaminated.
Here’s a little tip to our friend History Student: Need a topic for a paper? In the interest of helping pandemic-battered readers avoid heartburn, Old News hasn’t mentioned the biggest city news the papers reported 100 years ago this week. It was a rape trial.
Three Black men were accused of attacking a white woman near the intersection of 12th and Woodrow streets. To prevent lynchings, they (and a white man accused of attempted rape in a different case) were hustled to Fort Smith to await trial in Pulaski County. The accused were Johnny Vail, Clifton Barnhart and Emanuel West. A grand jury dropped charges against Barnhart and Vail. Your story could be about what happened to West.
He had an alibi and witnesses: He was in church, leading the choir, and afterward sat watch with other mourners beside the coffin of a friend.
When he came to trial April 7, fear of unrest was great. Judge John Wade called a special jury pool, and the empanelled jurors’ names were in the newspapers. They included four ministers and a former governor: George W. Donaghey. West’s reluctant defense attorneys were topnotch, Fred Isgrig, M.E. Dunaway and W.R. Donham.
Rape was a capital crime, punishable by death in the electric chair. This seems to be why the jury failed to return a verdict, hanging while divided seven to five. The five who voted against conviction were Donaghey and the Rev. Hay Watson Smith of Second Presbyterian Church, the Rev. A.C. Miller of Arkansas Methodist Church, Monsignor T.V. Tobin of St. Andrew’s Cathedral and C.F. Bizzell, a carmaker; but at one point, everyone but Smith was willing to convict West of a lesser charge if it meant he wouldn’t be executed. Smith never caved.
This trial had an unusual enough outcome that the Pine Bluff Commercial wrote a little editorial to the effect that it ought to show northerners that a Black person could, too, get a fair trial in Arkansas.
But West had not been acquitted. He was held to a retrial. At that retrial, the jury was again divided. Unable to declare him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, they compromised and gave him a life sentence.
As I said, heartburn. But also a good story. (I have left a lot out.) You might get an A. Email: