In the early 1900s, sweet tea was an item of luxury used as an exhibition of wealth due to the expensive nature of tea, ice, and sugar. Ice was possibly the most valued of the ingredients since it had to be shipped from afar at a time when access to cool drinking water was already a relative luxury. In modern times it can be made in large quantities quickly and inexpensively.
The oldest known recipe for sweet ice tea was published in 1879 in a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree, who was born in Texas. The recipe called for green tea since most sweet tea consumed during this period was green tea. However, during World War II, the major sources of green tea were cut off from the United States (due to anti-Japanese sentiment at the time), leaving them with tea almost exclusively from British-controlled India which produced black tea. Americans came out of the war drinking predominantly black tea. Sweet tea was once consumed as a punch mixed with hard liquour with flavorings of mint and cream, with mint julep being a close version of the punch drink with its similar ingredients.
In 2003, supposedly as an April fool’s joke, the Georgia House introduced a bill making it a "...misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature" to sell iced tea in a restaurant that did not also offer sweet iced tea on the menu. The bill never went to a vote.