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Martha and George McDowell enjoy an icy drink at the Sipp Shoppe coffee shop on old U.S. Highway 66 in Winslow, Arizona. (Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress)

“Cool Off With Coffee”: Promoting Iced Coffee in Mid-Century America

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This post was written by Kelly Bennett, a Business Reference and Research Specialist in the Science, Technology and Business Division.

As the weather gets warmer, many of us will start reaching for iced coffee to help get us through the day. Last summer, Starbucks reported that cold drinks accounted for approximately 75% of their total beverage sales in the United States. Some even prefer an iced coffee or a cold brew all year long. Google Trends show only the slightest dip in web searches during the coldest months of the year.

Cold coffee was not always so popular. Despite a brief spike in popularity in the early 1920s iced coffee was not a typical American drink. Coffee sales would reliably drop as temperatures rose. For the Pan-American Coffee Bureau, this drop in sales was a problem in need of a solution. Formed in 1937, the Pan-American Coffee Bureau (PACB) was a cooperative of Latin American coffee growers whose mission was to promote coffee consumption in the United States, the largest market in the Western Hemisphere. In 1939, inspired by the popularity of iced tea, it launched a decades-long campaign to convince Americans to drink iced coffee.

Headline Huge Summer Profits Assured in 600% larger iced tea drive. Additional headlines urge use of tea displays and note 28 million consumers to read iced tea advertising.
Front page of the May 1937 Tea & Coffee Trade Journal announces the potential success for iced tea. (Library of Congress)
When the heat has you down get a pick-up with iced coffee. Ad features polar bears and coffee drink with ice cubes and cream.
Advertisement for iced coffee from the Evening Star, July 16, 1936. (Chronicling America/Library of Congress)

The PACB launched another large advertising campaign for iced coffee in 1946, a few years after sponsoring a radio show, Over Our Coffee Cups, with Eleanor Roosevelt between September 1941 and April 1942 (the transcripts are available digitally through George Washington University). The PACB found much more success with the “Coffee Break” ads of the early 1950s, although they did not give up on promoting iced coffee. They launched a large-scale “Cool Off With Coffee” campaign in 1956.

Iced coffee in a glass with the words How to Cool Off with Coffee on the front.
Pan-American Coffee Bureau Promotional Mock Up, depicted in the February 1956 Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. (Library of Congress)

In addition to their own ads, they encouraged the entire industry to promote iced coffee working in tandem with the National Coffee Association. They also produced publications such as Coffee, the Story of a Good Neighbor Product (1954) and Fun with Coffee (1956), which included multiple recipes for iced and frozen coffee. (These works and others are available in print at the Library of Congress, but they are also available digitally through other repositories.) According to the February 1956 issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, despite these promotional attempts, iced coffee did not take off.

Two kids find the energy to go the jive jamboree after drinking iced coffee. The dance judges asked for the secret to that zip and they shared the iced coffee recipe.
“Ring my phone and call me busy –iced coffee!” Comic strip advertisement from the July 28, 1946 Evening Star. (Chronicling America/Library of Congress)

For the next several years, the PACB and other industry leaders encouraged coffee purveyors to advertise coffee as a refreshing summer treat. But it was not until the 1990s, when large coffee chains such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts began offering icy coffee beverages, that iced coffee began to surge in popularity (see “Iced Coffee Market Gains Ground…” in Advertising Age from the September 4, 2000). The PACB dissolved before it could see iced coffee become a popular American drink.

Hw to cool off with coffee: Coffee float, iced coffee mocha, iced coffee junior, coffee julep, and iced coffee Viennese
Five iced coffee recipes and three ways to make iced coffee from the July 15, 1956 Evening Star. (Chronicling America/Library of Congress)

Related Library of Congress research guides and blogs:

Some exciting Frosty Coffee Recipes: Coffee nectar is 2 and a quarter cups strong cold coffee, one tablesoon Angostura Bitters, 1 pint coffee ice cream. Blend until smooth and poor into tall glasses. Serves 3 to 4. Coffee Alexander is made by pouring in two tablespoons creme de cacao in bottom of wine glass, fill almost to top with strong ice cold coffee, mix and float whipped cream on top. 1 serving.
Frost Coffee Recipes from Fun with Coffee. 1956. New York, NY: Pan-American Coffee Bureau.

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