July is National Ice Cream Month, and the third Sunday in July is National Ice Cream Day. But you probably already knew that. Both events came into being when President Reagan signed a proclamation in 1984. But you probably already knew that too. But did you know that it wasn’t President Reagan’s idea? Or that it wasn’t initially on the third Sunday of July? Or that it wasn’t even initially in 1984? Here’s the full story that I accidentally discovered recently while researching it for a blog post.
One of the first things I found was the actual presidential proclamation from 1984, where the President calls upon the people of the United States to “observe these events with appropriate ceremonies and activities.” Indeed. But there were a few curious things about that document.
First, it’s Congress that puts forward ideas like this, asking the President to issue the proclamation. It wasn’t just a presidential love of ice cream that started it (even though Reagan clearly had a love for sweets). In this case it was actually the US Senate that got the ball rolling, with Senate Joint Resolution 298. Reagan then signed the proclamation on July 9th. (He actually signed two proclamations that day — the other was for African Refugees Relief Day.)
Second, the month mentioned in the proclamation was initially just July of 1984, not every July.
And third, the day mentioned was initially just July 15th, 1984, not every third Sunday in July.
Clearly America thought it was all a great idea, because they kept celebrating it in the following years. But I wondered when that “third Sunday in July” part got started. I went deep down into the dark recesses of the web and found a few more things.
I found one newspaper mentioning it a year later on Sunday, July 14th, which was the second Sunday (but the closest Sunday to the original date of the 15th, I guess). And then I found another one mentioning it on July 19th, 1992, which was the first one I could find on the third Sunday. But then in 1998 it got more confusing, as National Public Radio apparently celebrated it on Wednesday, July 15th, and the city of Atlanta celebrated it on Friday, July 17th the same year. But the International Ice Cream Association was on the ball with Sunday, July 19th, and that got me back to the third Sunday again. Somewhere around 1999 it seemed to be settling on the third Sunday, although I never really found out if one person in particular started the idea. Maybe it just happened.
But wait, that’s not the end of the story…
While I was scrounging the web, I came across an editorial in a newspaper where a guy was talking about Congress passing “resolutions designating July 15 as National Ice Cream Day.” That made sense, but then I noticed the date on the newspaper — July 3, 1983.
Wait, what?! 1983??
So I went back to the Library of Congress web site and did a search for all resolutions by the 98th Congress related to ice cream. And then I found it. There was another resolution proposing National Ice Cream Day the year before, in 1983. It was introduced by Senator Walter (Dee) Huddleston from Kentucky, but the idea apparently didn’t get any further than being passed by the Senate. The following year Senator Huddleston tried again, and that time the House jumped in with their own resolution, and it finally made its way up to the President to be turned into a proclamation. But the funny thing was, it was originally just National Ice Cream Day, and there was no mention of a month at all. Also, it was originally July 15th that year as well, but in 1983 the 15th was a Saturday — it only ended up being on a Sunday because of the year-long delay.
But wait, that’s not the end of the story either…
I looked up Senator Huddleston and discovered that he’s currently 87 years old and still living in Kentucky. Go ahead, guess what I did next.
That’s right, I called him. It was this past Sunday, which happened to be National Ice Cream Day. And he actually answered the phone.
I thanked him for putting forth the resolution to start the two events, and he laughed and mentioned that he’d seen something about it in the paper that morning. But I’ll bet they only mentioned Reagan, and not him. That’s too bad. We talked for a few minutes, and he said he remembered something about having to do the resolution a second time, but was a bit fuzzy on the details. But when I asked him why he started National Ice Cream Month and Day, he laughed and said, “Because I love ice cream!”
And now you know the full story.
So join me with a big bowl of ice cream and raise your spoon in salute to the person that actually started the celebrations. Thanks, Senator!