Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. They were born four days apart on March 18th and March 14th, 1951, respectively.
Ben and Jerry Met in High School, and became lifelong friends. They were born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in Long Island. After high school, Jerry attended Oberlin College for pre-med and Ben enrolled in the College Without Walls at Skidmore College and took classes in jewelry making and pottery.
In 1973 they shared an apartment on East 10th Street. Ben was working odd jobs and Jerry had been rejected from medical school twice.
They considered opening a bagel shop in 1976, when they shared an apartment together in Saratoga Springs. However, the cost of equipment for bagels was too expensive, so they turned their attention to ice cream instead.
They split the $5 cost for an ice cream making course at PSU, and searched for warm-weather college towns to locate their business . They found that almost all of them had an ice cream parlor except for Burlington, Vermont, where the University of Vermont is located. They rented out an old gas station there for $8,000
The $8,000 was from their own savings; many banks found the location unsuitable and the business undesirable and did not want to invest in them They eventually secured a $4,000 loan, opened in 1978, and called it Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream It was an instant success, thanks to their variety of wild flavors and large portion size They beat the challenge winters provided by packaging their ice cream and offering it to local restaurants and grocery stores.
They relocated in 1980 to a larger location and packaged their ice cream in pints to sell it in grocery stores. Franchises popped up in neighboring states within 5 years after the original location had opened.
They became so popular that Haagen-Dazs tried to limit their ice cream’s distribution in Boston. Ben and Jerry retaliated by filing a suit against Pillsbury, and began their “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of” campaign that had their sales exceeding $4 million. In 1985, their sales were greater than $9 million, and they were influenced by powers like their New York Super Fudge Chunk and Coffee Heath Bar Crunch flavors. In 1985, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation opened, which funds community-oriented projects. It receives 7.5% of the company’s annual pretax profits and supports causes like the National Grassroots Grant Program and the Vermont Capacity Building Grant Program.
Both Ben and Jerry are worth $150 million.
Unilever bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, and the company reports earnings of more than $230 million annually. The sale agreement had a provision through which Cohen and Greenfield could maintain the company’s pre-existing philanthropic apparatus and brand integrity.
Today, Ben is a member of the company’s advisory board, but neither he nor Jerry are actively involved with the company. They both received the James Beard Humanitarians of the Year Award in 1993 and the Peace Museum’s Community Peacemakers of the Year Award in 1997. Ben funds groups like TrueMajority and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.
Jerry is involved with the Institute for Sustainable Communities (with a seat on the board), Businesses for Social Responsibility, and TrueMajority.