Margaret Thatcher Helped Invent Soft-Serve Ice Cream

The Atlantic

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A young Margaret Thatcher, in the lab. (BBC via YouTube)

Margaret Thatcher died this morning at the age of 87. While some of her achievements over her long career have been and remain controversial, there is one accomplishment that has proven purely and Platonically beneficial -- to Britons, to Americans, to lovers of dairy the world over. Margaret Thatcher helped invent soft-serve ice cream.

Yes. The Milk Snatcher, who was also an ice cream inventor. The Iron Lady of Soft Serve. Thatcher, you see, before she was a politician, was a research chemist. The future prime minister, then Margaret Roberts, received a degree in chemistry from Oxford in 1947. And she put it to use first in work at a glue factory, and then with a research job at food manufacturer J. Lyons and Company, a "foodstuff conglomerate" in Hammersmith. Thatcher's task in that role? To figure out a way to whip extra air into ice cream using emulsifiers -- so that the ice cream could be manufactured with fewer ingredients, thereby reducing production costs. (And so that, additionally, the dairy-y result could flow from a machine rather than being scooped by hand.) She being Margaret Thatcher, she found that way. And her work resulted, ultimately, in the swirly stuff we know today as soft serve. (Or, if you're in Britain, "soft scoop.") Thatcher's airy dairy was served from ice cream trucks -- under the brand Mr. Whippy -- in Great Britain. And then it quickly spread, as soft serve is wont to do.

Despite her significant contribution to the world of gastronomy, Thatcher, for her part, didn't love chemistry. ("I just didn't like staying in the laboratory that long," she once explained. "I wanted to have more direct work to do with people.") But her work in food engineering led to her introduction to Denis Thatcher, then the managing director of his family's chemical and paint company. Denis encouraged Margaret to switch careers -- from chemistry to the field that would prove her real, if not her first, love: the law.

Hat tip Chris Jones.





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