For sailors during World War I, ice cream was a delectable dessert that took the place of alcohol aboard ships during Prohibition.
In 1914, General Order No. 99 banned liquor aboard naval vessels, and it was shortly followed by the 18th Amendment making alcohol illegal across the entire United States. As a result, ice cream became the de facto staple for boosting morale.
Even though Prohibition only lasted six years, sailors’ love for ice cream extended well after. In 1942, the aircraft carrier USS Lexington sustained damage from a Japanese torpedo and began sinking. As sailors abandoned ship, they grabbed containers of ice cream from the freezers and began chowing down.
“Survivors describe scooping ice cream into their helmets and licking them clean before lowering themselves into the Pacific,” wrote Matt Siegel in an Atlantic essay.
That fierce dedication to frosted sugar dairy led the Navy to spend $1 million on an ice cream barge.
The branch, which borrowed the concrete barge from the Army, retrofitted it as an at-sea ice cream factory and parlor. The ship, which was stationed in the Western Pacific, carted ice cream around to ships smaller than a destroyer that did not have their own ice cream-making facilities aboard.
The floating factory was able to make ten gallons of ice cream in just seven minutes, meaning one shift on the barge could produce approximately 500 gallons of frozen dessert for sailors. To accommodate the large amount of ice cream made, the barge could hold 2,000 gallons at a time.
The barge was not the most practical ship in the Navy. The concrete boat had no engine of its own and had to be pulled around by tug boats. Regardless of any difficulty this provided, it was a sailor-favorite because it brought them a pretty good reward for service.
Unfortunately, the unnamed ship no longer delivers ice cream to deployed sailors. The fate of the ice cream barge is unknown, but some think it may rest in a bay with other bygone ships of the era.
Caitlin O'Brien is a digital intern with Military Times. She started in January 2021. Caitlin attends Hofstra University where she is a double major in journalism and political science.