It’s the type of conditional reflex that would make Pavlov proud – the ringing of the bells, far off in the distance, with the power to send kids scurrying to their parents in a frenzied attempt to relieve them of any spare cash on hand. After all, those bells signified that ice cream was on its way and time was of the essence. All it took was for mom not to be able to find her purse in time, and that little jingling white truck might just pass by and over to the next block, which meant you would be running your tail off for a tasty treat. Luckily, you weren’t alone; every other kid in the neighborhood had the same response, and chances were good that that the friendly ice-cream entrepreneur would be held up for a few precious moments, while every kid in the household pitched in to help mom find her purse. And, if all went well, you would have a breathless encounter with the ice cream man. Let’s take a look at this history of this heroic fellow.
The first ice cream trucks rolled out in the 20s, thanks to a man named Harry Burt, who not only developed the first ice cream on a stick, but also incorporated a fleet of trucks to sell his wares along the streets of America. He called his company Good Humor, and the rest, as they say, is history. The white-clad Good Humor Man quickly became a familiar fixture in pop culture, and looked a little like this:
In the 50s, Good Humor was faced with some stiff competition from a new vendor on the block, one who, unlike Good Humor, sold soft ice cream treats, such as cones, sundaes and shakes. Known as Mr. Softee, the company’s trucks are still a familiar sight on the east coast and continue to serve millions of happy customers. Perhaps you remember their unmistakable vehicles, but just in case, we’re here to remind you:
Besides the big-name ice cream vendors, there has always been a steady supply of independently owned ice cream trucks, which, alongside the bomb pops, sno-cones, and ice cream sandwiches, usually stocked a plentiful supply of candy. On the east coast, Italian ices were also a very popular treat. Today, you are more likely to see one of these trucks serenading the neighborhoods and public parks.
As fleets of ice-cream trucks canvas the countryside this summer, offering frozen delicacies to ward off the blistering heat, we want to hear about your own childhood ice cream man memories. Were you partial to Good Humor or Mr. Softee, or did it matter not. What was your favorite treat? Did you go for the Strawberry Shortcake bar from Good Humor, or a good ol’ patriotic Bomb Pop? Share your memories of the ice cream man with all of us at Retroland, as we pay tribute to one of the most beloved childhood traditions of the season.