Ben & Jerry's: great for gorging, even greater for weird kitchen experiments. The eponymous hippies from Vermont have been spreading joy, one scoop at a time, for 36 years, but do you really know your benevolent Phish Food creators inside and out? Probably not. But don't worry, because you can read up on all the burning Cowmobiles and Doughboy fights fit to print below.
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1. It all started with an old gas station and a $5 class
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened the very first Ben & Jerry's in Burlington, Vermont in 1978. Their shop was a renovated gas station, and their knowledge was based on a $5 correspondence course in ice cream from Penn State (which is kinda famous for its creamery). Unlike most gas-station births, this one was beautiful.
2. The company almost had a whimsical name
The pair decided early on that "Jerry & Ben's" sounded awkward, but apparently Ben had some far-out suggestions for the company name that Jerry shot down, including "Josephine's Flying Machine". (Not pictured: Josephine.)
3. Free Cone Day has been around basically since the beginning
The annual holiday, wherein Ben & Jerry invite you to enjoy your favorite scoop free of charge, was started on the company's first anniversary as a thank you to the fans that kept them in business. It's been running every year since, making it easily the best thing spawned in 1979. (Sorry, Trivial Pursuit.)
4. They built a mountain of ice cream in the '80s
In an attempt to build the "world's largest ice cream sundae", Ben & Jerry's constructed a 27,102lb monster in St. Albans, Vermont in 1983. St. Albans is probably still purging its streets of residual chocolate syrup, while the massive cherry remains at large.
By 1984, Ben & Jerry's was a thriving small business, and they were seriously pissing off a major competitor. In an attempt to squash David, ice cream Goliath Häagen-Dazs got its parent company Pillsbury to bully distributors into not carrying Ben & Jerry's pints. The little guys obviously sued, but knowing they would run out of money in a legal fight, they also mounted a "What's the Doughboy Afraid Of?" campaign to get the public on their side. It worked, and the Doughboy refocused his energy on getting Moms to poke his stomach.
6. Their first truck was the "Cowmobile"
To get the word out nationwide, Ben & Jerry's packed up their stuff and hit the road on a 1986 cross-country tour aboard the "Cowmobile", a modified mobile home. Unfortunately, it caught fire and burned to the ground in Cleveland. Ohio must be Breyers country.
7. The big chunks are there for an unusual reason
When they were developing their flavors, Ben insisted on having massive chunks in their ice creams, and it wasn't just because he's a generous man. The guy has anosmia, which means he can't detect different smells. But he's subsequently very attuned to mouthfeel, and believed the craters of cookie dough and cherries set their ice cream apart. Turns out he was onto something.
8. The early flavors belong to Ben
By Jerry's own admission, he's never created a flavor in 36 years at Ben & Jerry's. He was the production guy who actually made the ice cream, while Ben dreamed up the flavors they tested. But that's not the case now...
Nowadays, Ben & Jerry's flavors come from the company's team of "flavor gurus". Each year, the gurus pour over fan mail and trendy dessert menus for a list of over 100 concepts. Marketing chops it down to 60, consumer polling crops it to 20, and then the gurus make those 20 pints in the kitchen. A few of those go onto consumer testing, and finally the elite new flavors hit freezers. And we thought the Taco Bell innovation team had cool jobs.
10. Their list of pop culture pints is massive
Ben & Jerry's has been making pints for famous people (both real and fictional) they like since 1987, when Cherry Garcia was born. Fallon's got one, Colbert's got one, Willie Nelson's got one -- hell, even Doonesbury got one. The latest is a Bob Marley pint that's only available to smug British people and a roster of SNL-inspired pints for the show's 40th anniversary. Three have been revealed, but there's still one more due in early 2015.
11. They are very vocal political activists
You've probably seen Ben & Jerry's stump for at least one movement through a marketing stunt or actual picketing, but these guys have more pet causes than Mike Tyson has pigeons. Throughout their 30+ years, they've taken stands on Occupy Wall Street, GMO labeling, oil drilling in Alaska, marriage equality, environmentalism, and Fair Trade, to name just a few.
12. They've had plenty of controversial pints
People are currently up in arms over their Hazed & Confused Core flavor, which parents have suddenly decided promotes hazing on college campuses and not badass Zep opuses. But Ben & Jerry's has gotten in trouble for multiple pints. Taste the Lin-Sanity was racist, Black & Tan was offensive to Irish history, and Schweddy Balls was just hilarious, but some killjoys were not amused.
When an ice cream gets canned at Ben & Jerry's, it doesn't just disappear into nothingness. It gets a proper burial in the company's Waterbury, Vermont "cemetery"... but only if it's really special. Though Ben & Jerry's has killed hundreds of flavors, the actual burial grounds house just about 30. And no, they don't actually bury pints, so don't try to dig up the last remaining helping of White Russian.
14. They have an entire squad of office dogs
The pups are called the K9-5ers and one is a Pomeranian named Rambo. They are not dispatched to sniff out illegal pints.
Kristin Hunt is a food/drink staff writer for Thrillist, and just wants to hug all the K9-5ers while eating Cherry Garcia. Follow her to dearly held dreams at @kristin_hunt.