The Surprisingly Sweet Role Ice Cream Played During WWII

Photo Credit: H. Armstrong Roberts / ClassicStock / Getty Images
Photo Credit: H. Armstrong Roberts / ClassicStock / Getty Images

Whether it’s a photograph of a loved one, a favorite meal or one of the many simple commodities we take for granted at home, the smallest comforts can make a big difference during times of war. For many who served during WWII, ice cream played a part in making them feel relaxed, and the story behind its impact is a surprising one!

An alcohol ban triggered the US Navy’s frozen treat craze

Group of British soldiers eating ice cream
British troops enjoying cake and ice cream while on their shopping tour during WWII. (Photo Credit: Reg Speller / Fox Photos / Getty Images)

As of July 1, 1914, alcohol was banned on US Navy ship. This was years before Prohibition made booze illegal across the entirety of the United States. Per General Order No. 99, “The use or introduction for drinking purposes of alcoholic liquors on board any naval vessel, or within any navy yard or station, is strictly prohibited, and commanding officers will be held directly responsible for the enforcement of this order.”

The Navy needed to find new ways to boost morale as World War I ramped up. The solution? Ice cream! It turned out sailors loved the dairy treat; their love ran so deep that some grabbed containers of it while the USS Lexington (CV-2) was sinking after a torpedo strike in 1942. According to The Atlantic, “Survivors describe scooping ice cream into helmets and licking them clean before lowering themselves into the Pacific.”

A $1 million floating ice cream factory

US soldiers gathered around a woman passing out bowls of ice cream
Ice cream sundaes and banana splits being enjoyed by battle casualties at the 1st US General Hospital during WWII. (Photo Credit: CORBIS / Getty Images)

The demand for everyone’s favorite frozen treat drove the Navy to spend a whopping $1 million on an ice cream barge during WWII. Repurposing a concrete barge from the US Army, the service created a floating ice cream factory and parlor to supply sailors with as much of the sweet stuff as they wanted.

More from us: The USS Forrestal (CV-59) Disaster Forever Changed the Way US Navy Sailors Learn Damage Control

The vessel would manufacture and deliver ice cream to smaller ships that didn’t have their own facilities. In one shift, the barge could produce 500 gallons of ice cream and hold as many as 2,000 gallons. It did, however, have its setbacks, including a fleet of tugboats to tow it, since it didn’t have its own motor. Despite this, the joy and comfort it brought to sailors made it a priceless commodity.

 No one is certain what happened to the ice cream barge following WWII. However, it continues to sail in the fond memories and stories of those who benefitted from its service.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast