milkshakes and malteds are cold, thick, creamy beverages made by combining milk, ice cream, iced milk, sorbet, or yogurt in a blender or mixer. To enhance the flavor, the mixologist has a vast range of options, including chocolate, coffee, malted milk, vanilla extract, honey, fruit syrups, juices, spices, and liqueurs. In different regions of the United States, the milkshake is variously called a frappe, a frosted, a thick shake, a cabinet, or a velvet.

The milkshake’s exact origins are unknown, but evidence indicates that it began as a soda fountain drink in the 1880s or earlier. See soda fountain. The ingredients and flavors resembled those of such traditional treats as English syllabubs and eggnogs. See egg drinks and syllabub. James Tufts, a soda fountain manufacturer, patented the Lightning Shaker for mixing milkshakes in 1884. The shaker, which was bolted to a counter, held one or two glass canisters with metal tops. The mixologist poured the milkshake ingredients into a canister and turned a crank to blend them. An 1890 dictionary defined milkshake as “an iced drink made of sweetened and flavored milk, carbonated water, and sometimes raw egg, mixed by being violently shaken by a machine specially invented for the purpose.”

The Tufts trade catalog stated that the milkshake “has sprung into great popularity in the South in a surprisingly short time. Wherever it has been properly introduced, it has immediately become extremely popular.” The catalog included a recipe that called for milk, shaved ice, and flavored syrup (preferably chocolate or vanilla), with the option of adding port wine. Other early recipes recommended whiskey to give the drink a little extra punch. To make a richer, thicker drink, upscale soda fountains used heavy cream or ice cream along with milk in their shakes.

Malted milk originated as a nutritional supplement and found a second market as a flavoring for malted milk shakes. Brothers William and James Horlick emigrated from Britain to Chicago, where they formed the Horlick Food Company to make a dietary supplement for infants and invalids. They knew that malt sugars aid digestion, but moist malt ferments easily. In order to make a nonalcoholic digestive aid, they had to prevent fermentation. They employed a vacuum process to dry wheat and barley malt, which they pulverized and packaged as a powder. In 1875 they received a patent for their new product, and two years later they opened a factory in Racine, Wisconsin. See malt syrup.

Horlick’s powder tasted best when mixed with milk, but the milk supply was not always safe in the days before refrigeration and government regulation. See milk. To ensure the purity of their product, the Horlicks bought dairy farms, raised their own cows, and made powdered milk. They mixed the dry milk with the other ingredients in their product, and the consumer added water to convert it into a liquid. Horlick’s malted milk sold briskly, so other companies, including Carnation and Borden’s, began to market similar mixtures. An unknown mixologist came up with the idea of adding malted milk powder to milkshakes. The result was a hearty, filling drink that became very popular, especially with men.

Horlick’s success inspired another Racine entrepreneur to invent an electric drink mixer to blend malted milk powder with liquids. Frederick Osius, the ingenious powerhouse who ran Hamilton Beach Manufacturing, created the Cyclone Drink Mixer in 1910. The Horlicks refused to bankroll the start-up costs for production, so Osius journeyed to New York to find investors. When he ran short on cash, he persuaded the owner of the Caswell-Massey store on Broadway to lend him money, with a Cyclone mixer as collateral. The novel blender created a sensation at the Caswell-Massey soda fountain, and malted sales soared. When the sales manager for a milk company saw the Cyclone, he immediately grasped its potential. He bought blenders from Osius and gave them to his customers, who ordered large quantities of malted milk. In 1922 Osius sold Hamilton Beach and moved to Miami, where he continued to develop new mixers.

In 1936 Earl Price invented the Multimixer, an automated milkshake machine that made up to five shakes simultaneously. Countless soda fountains, restaurants, and roadside stands used the Multimixer because it was a sturdy, reliable machine that produced tasty shakes. Although the Multimixer was efficient, fast-food outlets wanted something even quicker and simpler. Premade machine-mix milkshakes, containing artificial flavorings and chemicals instead of fresh ingredients, became a favorite shortcut in the fast-food industry.

Anne Cooper Funderburg

  1. “Horlick’s Achievement.” The Pharmaceutical Era, 24 August 1905, p. 189.
  2. “Malted Milk: The New National Drink.” The Soda Fountain, March 1928, pp. 41, 76.
  3. Stone, Fanny S. Racine, Belle City of the Lakes, and Racine County, Wisconsin. Vol. 2. Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1916.
  4. Tufts, James W. Arctic Soda-Water Apparatus: Book of Directions. Boston: Tufts, 1890.