Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day’s Humble Beginnings

The origin of this national blowout


Every year at around this time, folks from all walks of life find themselves gravitating toward their nearest Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop. They might not even know why they hop onto that line stretching around the block, but because it terminates at a Ben & Jerry’s, they know that the wait will have been worth it.

On April 9, the company will be celebrating its 34th annual Free Cone Day, when scoop shops across the country will be handing out free ice cream cones to all who visit. And while it might appear as if this gesture of goodwill is only a marketing ploy, its origins actually date all the way back to the earliest days of the first Ben & Jerry’s shop, in Burlington, Vt..

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened the ice cream stand in a run-down former gas station, with only $12,000 in startup money. They chose Burlington because it was a college town without an ice cream stand, according to PR director Sean Greenwood, and even though they originally wanted to open someplace warm, they took the risk and when winter roared its ugly head, they hunkered down and prayed that they’d make it through to spring.

"They did everything they could to stay in business through the winter," Greenwood told us. "They sold soups, crepes, and even pottery, and prayed that they’d make it through."

Sure enough, once the whether warmed back up, the duo found that they hadn’t gone belly-up.

In order to celebrate their survival and to thank the town of Burlington for its support, the pair decided to make as many batches of ice cream as they could and give it away for free, and May 5, 1979 turned out to be the very first Free Cone Day.

"Businesses have a responsibility to give back to the community," was the company slogan that Cohen came up with after the event. And that philosophy now encompasses a community that’s national. The slogan that Greenfield came up with also sums up a different company philosophy: "If it’s not fun, why do it?"

Click here to find a participating scoop shop by you.


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