The Ice Cream Man

Ice Cream Man

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.

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.

14 Responses to “The Ice Cream Man”

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  1. Easyreader says:

    [Re-post from my Memories]

    As a boy, I would play outside in the sprinklers having water gun and water balloon fights with my friends. Any kind of the fun that was cool and refreshing. Taking breaks to drink from the hose, setting up a lemonade stand, or just going inside and open the freezer door until a fog of frost engulfed me! (Much to the ire of my parents…. “close that door!”).

    But the day could be saved by the…. “what’s that!!? Do you hear music!! The Ice Cream Truck!!! Quick Mom! I Need Some Money!!”

    Running to catch up I was dazed by the fluorescent menu that boasted the most colorful and tastiest ice cream treats! My favorite was the Screwball.. sherbet you eat and at the bottom is a frozen bubblegum ball!!

    The worst memory I have about ice cream is running really hard on asphalt in bare feet in July and paying the man fifty cents for a screwball…… “sorry son, we don’t take Canadian nickels”. He handed back my change and mysteriously there was a Canadian nickel!! I was hot and crushed!!

    The best memory is a man who opened up his own snow-cone business out of the back of his truck. He had thin shaved ice in plastic cups and 12 flavors he would squirt into them!! My fav was tutti-frutti! He put a small straw in each so you could eat the ice and drink the cold liquid! Mmmmm

    I am still an avid ice cream eater and though I haven’t seen an ice cream truck since my youth, I know if I ever hear that music again I will go running!!!


  2. Retromaniac says:

    I remember the ice cream truck “always finding me” (LOL).

    It would always play Turkey In The Straw.

  3. Timothy1964 says:

    When I was a kid, we had the Jack & Jill ice cream truck coming up my street every summer afternoon/evening. I always used to get Push-Ups (known and themed as “Rockets” back in the early 1970s) filled with vanilla ice cream with chocolate swirl. I also remember buying bubblegum and Wacky Packages from the Jack & Jill truck!

  4. Wishnick59 says:

    Well, we live not too far from a mobile ice cream truck stop. Turkey in the Straw..well yes it still does..a slew of other fact they drive in my neighborhood at least three times daily..and BLAST the music as the DJ nowdays do. What ever happened to the bells on a string as the Good Humor man Dickie used to ring? Since we played outside we heard it..nowdays kids are indoors and you have to BLAST the music. It just takes the memories right out of it.

    • Martha says:

      Is this Dickie on Staten Island you are referring to? He seemed to be everywhere on the Island in my youth and had a name for every kid – like Billy the Kid if you were Billy and so on. Great guy – looked forward to the Good Humor truck every evening in the summer. Mr Softee moved in a bit but Dickie will always be remembered ringing those bells and all the kids coming out like he was the Pied Piper!!!

  5. NostalgiaTV says:

    Dear Eric,

    I remember having “Good Humor’s” and “Mr.Softee”ice creams in those days.

    The best frozen treats back then..are “The Mr.Softee”soft serve cones(Which are mistakenly called Frozen Custards..which they are not)

    I even remember the white uniforms and caps that the”Good Humor”vendors use to

    You’d be lucky if you even see anyone selling”Good Humors”on the streets in a pushcart anymore..let alone wearing those unforms.

    I also remember The original”Mr.Softee”animated tv plugs..which also played the original jingle with lyrics.

    I wonder if anyone still remembers those lyrics to that jingle?

    And the local kids tv shows in NYC did many plugs for “Good Humor”.

    The last NYC based kids tv show to promote “GH’s”(In a way)was “Steampipe Alley”on WWOR TV Ch.9.

    At the end of the show..the program’s announcer(“Don Pardonmeo”..The late Mr.Ted Malle’)would say”And while the kids were here in the clubhouse..they filled up on Lipton Cup A Soup And
    Good Humor ice cream)

    Ah! Sweet Memories!

  6. NostalgiaTV says:

    Dear Eric,

    According to a History Channel tv tribute “America Eats!:History On A Bun”.

    The Narrator tells the viewers that one of the “Good Humor”Vendors foiled a crime being committed by gangsters.

    And that vendor was well rewarded!

    “Believe It Or Else?!”

    Kevin S.Butler Formerley”Nostalgia TV!”.

    P.S.I’ve met the actor..who narrated that History Channel tv tribute to

    “America Eats”before he died..Mr.Mason Adams..the man who played

    newspaper City editor “Charlie Hume” on”The Lou Grant Show!’.

  7. princessdiana says:

    I loved it when the ice cream man came down my road every summer when I was a kid.He came every spring.

  8. Gina says:

    I still sometimes hear ice cream trucks playing a tune, and want to run outside and get something tasty. Maybe even low calorie like a Bomb Pop. But I never do. I guess because I’m not a kid and feel silly. But the taste of a treat is something you never outgrow.

  9. Emily says:

    I’m Canadian, and our mobile ice-cream chain was called Dickie Dee. The Dickie Dee guys (I’d say “Dickie Dee people,” but they always seemed to be male) would sell ice cream from a pedal cart, and I don’t think they wore any kind of uniforms. Anyway, my favourites were Rocket Pops (giant red, white, and blue Popsicles), giant Fudgesicles, and Richard D bars, which were vanilla ice cream covered with a thick layer of dark chocolate, sometimes with nuts. I’ve since gone vegan, but I still love a good Rocket Pop or Cyclone (same flavours, but with the red and white parts twisted around a blue middle).

  10. Eddie says:

    there are still a slew of them driving around town and I still get a drumstick if they have them!! I remember our childhood ice cream man was a charmer and flirted with my mom!! the trucks nowadays range from ramshackle to rustic and the music is sublime — one plays Christmas tunes all year!! they run year round here. I always love taking a break from yardwork or cleaning out the garage for an ice cream. and I got lots of vids and pics of my family getting treats

  11. kim maher says:

    I remember the Mr. Softee ice cream truck very well. His music signaling for us to start pleading for some of mom & dads

    spare change. Before he was even visible on our street I knew just what I wanted – a soft serve choco/vanilla twist cone

    with a chocolate dip. I also remember that there were times when they had iron-ons of the Mr. Softee cone for us to have

    mom iron onto a t-shirt for us. Not too clear as to how that promo worked the time, but, I sure wish I still had one of those

    iron-on’s today!

  12. Donna Dearborn says:


    My great-grandfather Robert Paul Hawkins started Good Humor here on the west coast. I have lots of photos and memorabilia of the trucks and business. It is so much fun to research the history now of Good Humor. I am on a quest to share the things I remember my grandmother sharing with me. Everything I remembered her sharing I’m finding articles to substantiate what she said was true. He was an inventor of many different things as well as starting Good Humor. He also had a chocolate factory as well. Anyways just wanted to share a little of my memories and would love to share other stories at another time. Thanks for sharing this great site!!!!!

    • Hi Donna,

      It’s so nice you are doing the research on your family!
      I think we have many relations in common, and please do email me when you get a chance.
      Our family is in New Zealand now.

      Kind regards,

      Terre Aubrey

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