This drink is widely beleived to be created in Oakland and first printed in the Oakland tribute in 1965, this is not true. Infact, the newspaper in question does not even list this drink by name or ingredient during this time. This drink appears as early as:
Gentlemen’s quarterly: GQ.: Volume 29 in 1959 and Show: the magazine of the arts: Volume 4 in 1964
This drink originally calls for Kahlua, unlike it’s proprietor the Black Russian. For undetermined reasons this drink was called a Russian Bear or a Polar Bear from 1964 – 1971 as we see here:
Wines and spirits by Alec Waugh, Time-Life Books in 1968
“White Russian (or Russian Bear) To make 1 cocktail or after-dinner drink 1 Kahlua 2 ounces vodka 2 teaspoons heavy cream 3 to 4 ice cubes.”
The New Yorker in 1971
“Polar Bear: Kahlua (1 part) vodka (2 parts) cream (1 part) blend or shake with crushed ice”
If we had to guess, this name change was due to a television commercial, which would also explain why the “bear” names didn’t stick. Nevertheless, this drink was without question created in New York, seeing as all early literature surrounding this drink, derives from New York based magazines and newspapers.
Early recipes also indicate this drink was originally served pousse-cafe style meaning “layered” and all early publications suggest this drink is served over crushed ice. It is unclear who created this drink, but certainly this drink owes it’s current existence to the 1998 major motion picture “The Big Lewboski”; where Jeff Bridges (The “Dude” himself) frequently orders the White Russian.
This drink dates between 1954 – 1959 and contained at least as of then:
Pour the first two ingredients over crushed ice in a highball glass.
Heavy Cream (layer this ingredient)