Take a Trip Through Dairy Queen’s History with These Vintage Photos

Updated: May 05, 2023

Ice cream lovers have enjoyed a "cone with the curl on top" since 1940. Here's a look at Dairy Queen's history in pictures.

dairy queenCourtesy American Dairy Queen Corporation

The Dairy Queen story begins in 1938, two years before the restaurant opened, with the dawn of soft-serve ice cream. The inventors, J.F. McCullough and his son Alex convinced ice cream man Sherb Noble to sell it at his shop in Kankakee, Illinois. It was an immediate hit. They served 1,600 customers in two hours at an all-you-can-eat ice cream sale.

Noble and the McCulloughs opened the first Dairy Queen store (pictured above) on June 22, 1940, along historic Route 66 in Joliet, Illinois. Though no longer serving customers, the site still stands as a local landmark.

Check out these other must-see stops on Route 66.

Vintage Dairy Queen adCourtesy American Dairy Queen Corporation

The Original Dairy Queen Menu

Dairy Queen’s first menu items included soft-serve cones, sundaes and ice cream by the pint and quart. A cone cost a nickel, and a sundae cost 8 cents.

1940 Original Dq Cone Courtesy Dairy QueenCourtesy Dairy Queen

Gail Jackson, reader of Taste of Home‘s sister magazine Reminisce, remembers when the restaurant opened in Roseburg, Oregon, in 1948. “I talked Mom out of a nickel and walked the nine blocks to the new Dairy Queen,” she says. “When I asked what flavors they had, they realized I hadn’t been there before and gave me a free cone. I remember how good ‘the cone with the curl on top’ (pictured above) tasted. And best of all, I still had my nickel!”

Can you guess the country’s oldest restaurant chains?

1951 Dq Storefront Courtesy Dairy QueenCourtesy Dairy Queen

“Dairy Queen was the closest thing we had to fast food in the 1950s,” explain Reminisce readers Danny Atchley and Barbara Starcher of Mineral Wells, Texas. “Most of the young people hung out there, visiting with friends while working on our malts, shakes or banana splits.”

Photos from Dairy Queen’s Past

We rounded up these old photos from Dairy Queens over the decades. Do they look familiar?

The First DQ Sign: 1940

1940 First Dq Sign AdeditCourtesy Dairy Queen

This sign lists the prices at the very first DQ, and cones indeed went for a nickel. That’s not all—you get your second cone for just a cent. Plus, a quart of soft serve cost only 35 cents—if only we could bring these prices back!

DQ Storefront: 1946

1946 Dq Storefront Courtesy Dairy QueenCourtesy Dairy Queen

This photo of a Dairy Queen storefront shows just how popular their cones have always been. There’s a line straight out the door! The logo and the setup are a far cry from modern-day DQs around the country.

DQ Behind the Scenes: 1950

1950 Dq Interior Courtesy Dairy Queen

We can’t imagine handling three of DQ’s signature cones at once, but this DQ worker seems to be having no trouble at all! The logo on his hat was clearly going through some development—there’s a definite change from the one we saw in the ’40s.

Introduction of the Dilly Bar: 1955

1955 Dilly Bar Introduced Courtesy Dairy QueenCourtesy Dairy Queen

The Dilly Bar debuted in 1954 at the DQ in Moorhead, Minnesota—one of the oldest locations that’s still in operation. According to the restaurant’s website, an employee trainer put a dollop of ice cream on a piece of cardboard, stuck a stick in it and said, “Ain’t that a Dilly!”

A year later, the new treat expanded nationwide. This poster shows off the brand-new creation, but it’s definitely progressed since—you can now get a gluten-free version. Its introduction was only outshone by the arrival of the DQ Blizzard.

DQ Storefront: 1962

1962 Country Fresh Store Courtesy Dairy QueenCourtesy Dairy Queen

In this photo of a storefront from the ’60s, you can see some resemblance to the modern-day versions of the store. The DQ logo, which has gone through plenty of changes, looks much closer to the red, orange and blue version we’re so used to seeing now.

Full Meal Deal: 1980

1980 Full Meal Deal Courtesy Dairy QueenCourtesy Dairy Queen

The Full Meal Deal was a ’80s promotion offering a hamburger, crunchy fries, a sundae and a drink for just—wait for it—$2.79. Unbelievable as it sounds now, this advertisement says otherwise.

Next Up: Make these Dairy Queen copycat recipes.

1 / 16

Originally Published in Reminisce