The First Dairy Queen in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, 1953
No matter what your favorite ice cream go-to place is/was: Tastee-Freez, Dairy Twist, Twistee Treat, or any other with the words “twist”, or “dairy”, the original ice cream stand with the biggest reputation is Dairy Queen. Individual towns have their personal ice cream stands, usually with the town name or high school sports team attached to it (ours was “Panther Queen” - When I was a kid I used to stop there every Saturday morning after collecting for my paper route and get a large root beer float).
The very first Dairy Queen in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was in the Keweenaw Peninsula town of Houghton in 1953.
In 1938, J.F. McCullough and his son Alex created soft-serve ice cream. They coaxed a local shop owner in Kankakee, Illinois to sell it at his shop. The idea worked, and customers lined up for it. Promoting the new soft ice cream, they held an “all you can eat” event and in just two hours, 1,600 people waddled away, bellies full of ice cream.
That was enough to convince them to open an ice cream-only stand, and Dairy Queen was born in a little shack on Route 66 in Joliet, Illinois on June 22, 1940.
The menu items included cones (five cents), sundaes (eight cents), and pints or quarts (thirty-five cents) of boxed ice cream. If you bought a cone for a nickel, you could buy a second one for a penny. A penny.
Then came the Dilly Bar. Where did that goofy name come from? In 1954 an employee slapped a large spoonful of ice cream on some cardboard and stuck a stick in it. Proud of his simple creation, he exclaimed “ain’t that a dilly? Har har!”…and the Dilly Bar was born.
More new ice cream treats debuted over the years along with other non-ice cream fast food favorites.
Today, there are still a number of Dairy Queens throughout upper and lower Michigan, from Alanson to Ypsilanti. The one in Houghton still exists, albeit more modernized than the one from 1953. Too bad…I’d love to visit one of the old-time Dairy Queens…
Upper Peninsula's First Dairy Queen