The first Prince Ice Cream Castle was built by Earl Prince in DeKalb in 1928. Served there was the Frozen Gold brand of ice cream, created and sold wholesale to Prince by his Downers Grove school friend, Walter Fredenhagen, who owned an ice cream plant in Rushville, Ill.
Fredenhagen sold his Frozen Gold wholesale business in 1930, just as the Depression was beginning. He then teamed together with Prince to build many more Ice Cream Castles, and then sought out locations for them in suburban Chicago towns. He and his engineer, Ben Brom, personally, physically made doors, windows and even roofs, intending to assemble the castles in the spring of 1931. Prince, meanwhile, was building an ice cream plant to service the new ice cream emporiums.
The first five stores opened in spring, 1931, as scheduled. These were located in Naperville, Downer’s Grove (Fairview Avenue), Glen Ellyn, Elmhurst and LaGrange.
At 7 p.m. Friday evening, April 24, 1931, the Naperville Prince Castle at 324 S. Washington, opened its doors for business, selling “Castle Cones (Jumbo), Sundaes with Fresh Fruit, and [Ice Cream] Bricks in Quarts [35 cents] and Pints [20 cents.]”
The Castle Cones, then made of four or five different scoops of ice cream, evolved, years later, to become the triple sherbet Jumbo Cones still sold today at the last remaining of the “castle” stores, in Brookfield.
The Brookfield Prince Castle was officially open as of Thursday, June 9, 1932, when the Suburban Magnet newspaper ran the headline of “New Ice Cream Shop,” and reported that “The Prince Castle Ice Cream Shop, located on  Burlington Avenue, opposite the Brookfield passenger station, is one of the newest establishments to locate here. The local shop is one of eight located in as many of Chicago’s suburbs. Mrs. [Jennie] Jacobsen, of Hollywood, is in charge of the place. Eighteen different flavors of ice cream are carried on hand at all times, and a feature enjoyed by kiddies is the large jumbo cones dispensed for a jitney [10 cents.]
“Fresh fruit sundaes and salads in individual containers are also a specialty. Two different flavors of ice cream may be purchased on weekends at a specially reduced price. A visit to this unique and quaint establishment will be enjoyed.”
According to Ted Fredenhagen, son of the founder, “Management for the stores were almost always women. They worked on commission, and we owned the location and the store.”
The first Brookfield Prince Castle newspaper ad for June 9 trumpeted that “home grown strawberries” were used in the “Fresh Fruit Strawberry” ice cream, and the other special was “Plain New York” ice cream, available in handpacked pints for 20 cents, and quarts for 35 cents.
“All other flavors are 45 cents, quart”25 cents, pint. All sizes and prices in cones. Sundaes are most refreshing at 10 cents.”
Over the next few weeks, the flavors began to depart from the usual strawberry or New York. Offered were Pineapple Pecan, Apricot and English Toffee. A one dip cone was a nickel.
Being a seasonal enterprise, the castle pulled up its drawbridge for the winter, and reopened the next spring. Maybe this drive in and park ice cream shop had never had a proper opening celebration the previous year, because their newspaper ad for April, 13, 1933 took on the form of a radio announcement.
“HELLO, EVERYBODY! This is PRINCE ICE CREAM CASTLES Broadcasting the Grand Opening on Saturday, April 15 of the Brookfield CASTLE on Burlington Avenue. Everything is in readiness to meet your every ice cream need. We are happy to call your attention to the fact that the sales tax is included in all our prices, which remain the same as last year. Remember, Prince Castle Ice Cream is exclusive at the lowest possible price.”
Ted Fredenhagen remembered that the famous “One-In-A- Million” malt was developed around 1933-34.
“Everyone else had a thin malt, made with more milk, less ice cream and a couple little sugar wafers with it. My dad and Prince thought if they could put in four dips of ice cream and only a little milk, they’d have something. But this burned up the Hamilton Beach mixing machine motors. They wanted Hamilton Beach to make some [to their specifications,] but couldn’t. So my dad and Prince invented one with a three horsepower motor, that could whip four or five malts at a time, and called it a ‘multi-mixer.’
“It took some doing. They were still using metal cylinder cups to mix the malts, and just pouring it in paper cups. They said, ‘This is too sloppy an operation,’ and invented the rolled-under collar on a paper cup for the Sweetheart Paper Cup Company to make for them, and the metal collar to keep the malt attached to the machine while it was mixing. Later they gave or sold the rights to the new style paper cup to the Sweetheart Company.”
Fredenhagen and Prince named the new, thick malt the “One-In-A-Million,” after the name of a movie starring ice skating star Sonja Henie. At first the malteds cost a dime, but were so rich in taste that they were reported to be worth as much as 15 to 20 cents.
The malts were known to have come to the Brookfield Prince Castle by Oct. 1, 1936, at which time triple-scoop ice cream sundaes were being advertised in “malted milk containers” for the low price of 15 cents.
By the end of October “our new line of Malted Milks” were being “sold for one week as low as 5 cents [half price] … to have the whole city become acquainted with these delicious new malted milks; imparting that clean, fresh aroma and flavor [which is] characteristic of wholesome dairy products.”
In 1936, after the Dionne quintuplet children were born, Prince Castle advertised the Quintuplet Banana Split, five scoops of ice cream with your choice of fruit, and chocolate, butterscotch, or marshmallow topping, with, of course, two slices of bananas. For only 15 cents.
The Depression leveled off, and World War II was upon the nation, but that did not stop Fredenhagen and Prince from introducing new products. During and after the war, they developed the square ice cream scoop. In the beginning, they had used a sort of spade to scrape ice cream off the slabs. Then came the round dipper scoop, which was an improvement. Finally the highly memorable square dipper completed the evolutionary process.
“We were one of the first to develop the half-gallon business in the early 1940s,” said Ted Fredenhagen, who literally grew into the business in 1946, alongside his father. “People would get ice cream at drug stores, not supermarkets as they did later. We dominated the ice cream business. It just caught on.”
Half gallons were selling for 78 cents in 1949. This same year, Prince Castle was selling “pure ground beef hot hamburger sandwiches” at a dime each. These evolved into the famous Steakburgers, long before Steak ‘N’ Shake called theirs that. Also at this time, on the menu were the 19 cent “twinburgers, a double deck sandwich” early ancestors of “The Big One.” This was years before McDonald’s Big Mac was being sold. For 15 cents, something called a “Barbecue Sandwich” could also be yours to enjoy.
In the late 1940s, the three-sherbet Jumbo Cones were sold for the first time.
“Whatever a double dip cone cost, you could get three dips of sherbet for the same price.”
The sherbet flavors used were the classic orange, lime and grape. In later years, sometimes lemon was used instead, or raspberry, but these weren’t very good sellers.
Business was booming, but an even more significant change was on the horizon. By 1955, a combination of circumstances forced the company to conclude that “we no longer had control of our own Prince Castle name, so we made the move to change our name,” said Ted Fredenhagen. “Unfortunate, but one of the most difficult things I ever had to do in my life.”
Earl Prince now owned the rights to the Prince Castle name, and the Fredenhagens were running the old business.
The changeover to the Cock Robin name was gradual, usually occurring at not more than two stores per year afterwards.
“Even though it was still the same ice cream, people were telling us, ‘I don’t want that Cock Robin stuff; I want the good Prince Castle stuff.’ We had a big problem of getting our new name established. On our cups, we’d have the Prince Castle name and drawing, and on the other side, the Cock Robin name and bird.”
Along with the change of name came a change in the way customers got their food. The old Prince Castle way, they ordered the food, it was given to them and then they paid for it. The Cock Robin way meant that people could serve themselves, pick up their own hamburgers, fries and even drinks. Soda drinks were easy enough to place under a nozzle and fill up, but the malts were pre-made and set in a bin, with their flavors written on top. However, people still had to order individual scoops of ice cream on cones and sundaes.
It took years and years for all the stores to completely change over. In 1963, the Brookfield store still ran ads in the papers with the big bird on the left and the castle on the right, although the castle was getting smaller and smaller in comparison to the bird.
Some ideas took off and flew forever, like the Blizzard, in the 1970s. Others, like the “Ace-Hi” half gallons of frozen dessert never caught on. These were advertised as being “low in fat, high in nutrition.”
The trouble was, they didn’t taste enough like real ice cream, and their texture was very different. People would eat it, but only if they didn’t have any actual ice cream on hand.
The Jumbo Cone was only 79 cents in 1986, and was joined by several new items, such as corn dogs for 89 cents and pizza puffs for $1.30. Side orders of onion rings, hash browns and mushrooms joined the humble french fries.
In 1990, “Walter Fredenhagen sold the Cock Robin name and operations to the Peterson Ice Cream Company of Oak Park.” But he and his son still were landlords for five of the seven Cock Robins still in the Chicagoland area. Three years later, on Tuesday, June 1, 1993, at his 2,000-acre ranch in Amboy, Ill., Walter Scott Fredenhagen died at age 97. He had, in years past, attributed his longevity “to a steady diet of his vitamin-chocked, body-building ‘One-In-A-Million Shakes.'”
The end was at hand. One by one, the Cock Robin stores were sold. Ted Fredenhagen recalled that “I decided that when we were going to sell out, that if we had a good manager, we would just sell that store to the manager at a fair price.” But over time, all the stores closed forever, except for one.
Louis and Norma Correa owned this last Cock Robin, in Brookfield, then sold it in May, 2003, to Ebcats Inc., with Lou Gartner representing the interests of the company. Both Ebcats and Gartner said the reason it was bought was that “there was a soft spot in our hearts from our childhood memories. We didn’t want to see it die away.”
And so, under the current managership of Alice Herringa, Brookfield is fortunate to have this institution, still operating after 73 years.
Ted Fredenhagen is almost at a loss to explain why this last one, of them all, survived.
“I’ve always marvelled at the Brookfield store,” he said. “It was a terrible location. It’s not near a highway, like Ogden, or 22nd Street. Of them all, this was the one that we thought that wouldn’t last. The one we thought had the worst location turned out to be longest lasting of them all.”