Happiness on a Stick

Sitting on my patio the other day I heard a familiar jingle. Looking toward the street a bright colorful ice cream truck went by. My mouth soon watered just like it had years ago. I’m sure that same experience and memory is enjoyed by other baby boomers across America.

The history of ice cream street vendors dates back to the nineteenth century. During the 1860s hundreds of New York City peddlers were selling penny licks and ice cream sandwiches to ice cream hungry crowds. I bet you are wondering what penny licks are?  Before the invention of the ice cream cone, vendors would scoop ice cream into a regular glass. After licking the ice cream out of the glass until empty, the customer would then return the glass to the peddler. The peddler would then swish the glass in a pail of water before refilling it for the next customer. Doesn’t sound too sanitary to me.

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New York City Ice cream vendor 1920s

While much has changed since peddlers first sold glasses of ice cream from carts cooled with ice blocks, not much has changed about the ice cream truck.

Harry Burt who owned a candy and ice cream shop in Youngstown, Ohio, came up with the idea of ice cream on a stick.  Burt had made a name for himself already in 1920 by attaching a wooden stick to a ball of candy creating the Jolly Boy Sucker … a new type of lollipop. He later changed it to the Good Humor Sucker.

Later in 1920 he set out to create another sweet innovation. Burt mixed coconut oil and cocoa butter to seal a smooth block of vanilla ice cream in the chocolate coating. The treat looked good and tasted good but there was one problem.  Burt’s 23-year-old daughter Ruth thought that the new treat was too messy to eat. Burt’s son, Harry Jr. suggested using a wooden stick as a convenient handle just like they used on the Jolly Boy Sucker. After experimenting Harry discovered that the stick formed a strong bond after the ice cream crystallized around the stick.

Harry then named it the Good Humor Bar. The name came from the idea that a person’s “humor” or temperament was related to the humor of the palate or your “sense of taste.”

Burt then came up with a plan that same year in how to get his ice cream bars into the hands of hungry kids. He invested in 12 refrigerator trucks for distribution around the city. Good Humor Bars were peddled in these gleaming white refrigerated trucks by driver / salesmen in white uniforms with a set of bells announcing the truck’s presence.

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Good Humor truck 1959

Since then ice cream trucks have become a common sight and one of the best known symbols of food vending on wheels.

With summer just around the corner, an ice cream truck playing “Pop Goes the Weasel” or “The Entertainer,” will soon be coming to your neighborhood. Enjoy!

Contributed by

Craig Francom

Craig Francom was born in San Diego California and raised in Midvale Utah. Craig had a "Leave it to Beaver" childhood. If not at the local fishing hole, camping out …

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