Ben Cohen in 2010
March 18, 1951
|Education||Colgate University (BA)|
|Occupation||Food company founder|
|Known for||Co-founder with Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerrys, former company CEO|
Cohen was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in the town of Merrick, New York, on Long Island by Jewish parents Frances and Irving. Cohen first met and befriended his future business partner Jerry Greenfield in a seventh grade gym class in 1963. In his senior year, Cohen found work as an ice cream man before leaving to attend Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.
Over the next decade, Cohen pursued his interest in pottery and dropped out of college after his sophomore year. He also worked as a McDonald's cashier, Pinkerton guard, deliverer of pottery wheels, mop-boy at Jamesway and Friendly's, assistant superintendent, ER clerk, and taxi driver, before settling on work as a craft teacher at a private school for emotionally-disturbed adolescents. While teaching at the Highland Community School, Cohen began experimenting with making his own ice cream.
In 1977, Cohen decided to go into business with his old friend Jerry Greenfield, and in May of the next year, the two men opened Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream Parlor in Burlington, Vermont. They initially intended to start a bagel business, but found the equipment costs prohibitive and switched to ice cream instead. They chose Burlington as a location because it was a prominent college town which, at the time, had no ice cream shop. Ben & Jerry's distinctive style of ice cream was developed to compensate for Cohen's anosmia, as he kept adding larger and larger chunks to the ice cream to satisfy his need for texture in food. Ben & Jerry's became popular in Burlington.
Cohen resigned as Chief Executive Officer of Ben & Jerry's in 1996.
As Ben & Jerry's gradually grew into a nationwide business and one of the largest ice cream companies in the U.S., Cohen turned his new-found wealth and prominence toward a variety of social causes, generally through the Ben & Jerry's Foundation. The Foundation receives 7.5% of all Ben & Jerry's pre-tax profits and distributes funds to organizations such as the Anti Displacement Project. Cohen also oversaw TrueMajority and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.
He is a vocal supporter of Democratic candidates and progressive causes. He supported Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 Democratic Party presidential primaries. In 2008, he initially supported John Edwards followed by Barack Obama. Cohen became a prominent supporter of Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries. Cohen debuted a special ice cream flavor called "Bernie's Yearning" on January 25, 2016 out of support for Sanders. Ben & Jerry's released a statement disavowing connection or support for the product, saying "This was created by Ben as a citizen. The company is not involved."
In 2012, he helped launch the Stamp Stampede campaign to stamp messages on the nation's currency in support of passing a constitutional amendment to help overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and reduce the influence of private corporations on politics.