A recent column in The Wall Street Journal — “Build a Smoother Smoothie. You’ve Earned It” — offers a rum cocktail version of the sherbet-ey Orange Julius, citing a Los Angeles orange juice salesman named Julius Freed as the inventor of the original drink. Having spent several years mulling over the history of this American fast-food icon for my newish book, “American Food: A Not-So-Serious History,” I wanted to take a moment to correct the historical record, and also offer my own hot take on the virgin version of the recipe, which has just three ingredients, one of which is ice. Scroll to the bottom if you want to skip the history and get straight to the slush.
The real Orange Julius was Willard Hamlin
Julius Freed — the Julius in Orange Julius — was likely a former cigar store owner named Julius Fried, who moved to California from Butte, Montana, according to a 1983 story in the Montana Standard, the area’s local paper. If their assumption was correct, then Julius Freed/Fried likely left Butte in the early 1900s after a bankruptcy and a couple of arrests for encouraging the illegal gambling that took place in the back of his flagship smoke shop.
In 1926, Freed/Fried did open a freshly squeezed orange juice stall in downtown Los Angeles — in the ground floor of 820 S. Broadway, now home to a sunglasses shop, a secondhand boutique, and a cell phone store — when those were common all over Southern California. (This was during Prohibition, after all.) But it was Freed/Fried’s real estate agent, Willard “Bill” Hamlin, who made the first real Orange Julius.
Hamlin convinced Freed/Fried to carry his secret powdered vanilla-ey formula that turns blended orange juice, sugar syrup, and crushed ice into that icy cold, fluffy, Creamsicle-y drink. Hamlin then invested $6,800 and went into business with Freed/Fried and a building contractor named William Larkin.
This part of the story is not really a big secret, either. According to a lengthy, lovely 1987 obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Hamlin had a sensitive stomach and an interest in chemistry, hence his drive to tinker with a new drink. But I believe his real estate background was…