As passionate as so many women are about ice cream, it’s no surprise they didn’t sit around waiting for some man to invent the home ice cream maker. In fact it was Nancy Johnson of Philadelphia who took matters into her own hands in 1846, inventing the classic hand-crank ice cream machine. Up until that point ice cream making was an extremely labor- and time-intensive enterprise. Sweetened cream was poured either into a metal pail or large bowl which was then immersed in either are a larger pail or a larger bowl filled with iced brine. Making ice cream took two people: one to rotate the interior container and another one to stir and scrape. It was an awkward and sloshy affair that usually left the operators exhausted and soaked to the skin. The ice cream didn’t fare all that well either.
Johnson knew there had to be a better way. Her answer: a sealed interior cannister that contained a removable agitator. The agitator was connected to a simple hand crank mechanism that allowed a single operator to stir the mix as it chilled. It was a brilliant innovantion that was made even better just a few years later when a fellow named William Young from Baltimore modified the mechanism to allow the cannister to spin as the crank was turned, creating a higher level of heat transfer and faster chilling.
The basic design hasn’t changed to this day, though it has been creatively interpreted. Notably during World War II when B-17 bombers were employed as dual-purpose instruments of destruction AND ice cream machines as they flew missions over Germany. Flyboys were known to fill cannisters with cream and sugar, then place them in cold spots in their airplanes, letting altitude and turbulence (from either rough air or enemy action) do the rest. One can only imagine what Nancy Johnson would have said to the whole thing: Puh! Men.