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Published On: Tue, Aug 19th, 2014

We All Scream for Ice Cream: The Story of the Good Humor Man

It seems incredible that there was once a world without the ice cream man. But, it’s true. Not all children have experienced an ice cream truck roving through their neighborhood. And, in fact, the history of the ice cream truck is riddled problems – right down to the making of it.

Cold Stone's "Shark Week" ice cream is just the latest in a long, storied history of the desert photo/Cold Stone Creamery

Cold Stone’s “Shark Week” ice cream is just the latest in a long, storied history of the desert
photo/Cold Stone Creamery

The First Ice Cream Flavors

The first ice cream was difficult to make. In the forth century, the Japanese emperor Nintoku was so fond of the idea of a frozen dessert, that he created an annual Day of Ice. During the event, he would have ice chips handed out to guests in an elaborate ceremony. Monarchs in Turkey, India, and Arabia would emulate this practice, adding fruits, syrups, and even flowers to kick things up a notch.

In the 16th century, the technology for on-demand freezing became commercialized. Prior to that time, one had to wait until nature provided the ice for the treat. Scientists had discovered that placing a container of water in a bucket of snow mixed with saltpeter would produce ice cream whenever anyone wanted it.

The problem was that the process was still labor intensive and expensive. In fact, when the British settlers turned North America into the American colonies, they brought ice cream with them, but the process was largely managed by slaves and servants.

Each scoop was difficult to make. Thomas Jefferson was so enamored by it, however, that he built an icehouse with wagonloads of ice acting as refrigeration. Basically, cooks had to extract the iced mixture from a frozen pewter bucket. Then, they had to churn and blend it with cream by hand and place the concoction back into the bucket for additional freezing.

This churning and freezing process took days to complete – non-stop work for whomever did it. Still there was a market for the product, even if it was only for the elite and wealthy.

The Birth Of The Ice Cream Wagon

By the 1800s, the ice delivery industry had exploded. Companies were harvesting ice out of rivers and transporting ice to homes at prices that even modest income earners could afford. At the same time, hand-crank ice cream makers were being invented. It was like a match made in heaven.

Cheap wooden wagons let entrepreneurial-types avoid the high cost of renting real estate and so the first “ice cream wagons” were born. Proprietors would simply pull a wagon up on the corner of a cobble street and call out to people. Wouldn’t you know it – they came. Penny licks were one of the most popular treats of the time. Instead of cones, the ice cream was put on plain glass and patrons would lick the glass clean.

Then, the proprietor would swish it in a pail and dish up another scoop for someone else to enjoy.

Modern-Day Ice Cream Trucks

Today’s ice cream trucks are modeled after those early wagons. Of course, today, trucks are stocked with ice cream packaging, refrigerator units, fancy electric speakers and of course premium ice cream.

Today’s Ice Cream Truck Market

It’s crowded out there. In San Jose, California, for example, there’s Treatbot – a futuristic ice cream truck. In Tacoma, Cool Cycles Ice Cream Company sells a motorcycle paired with a sidecar that can hold 600 ice cream bars. In New York City, there’s the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, run by Doug Quint, a classically trained bassoonist.

In fact, even though Good Humor has phased out its truck business, there are still more than 400 Mister Softee franchises and more than 700 trucks across 15 different states. And, it doesn’t look like they’re disappearing any time soon.

Guest Author :

Jesse McIver is a lover of all things ice cream. From innovative flavors to industry history, he enjoys researching, tasting, and blogging about one of the top desserts in the world.

President Barack Obama eats a hot fudge sundae as he talks with patrons at the UNH Dairy Bar on the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, N.H., June 25, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama eats a hot fudge sundae as he talks with patrons at the UNH Dairy Bar on the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, N.H., June 25, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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