The year was 1920 in Youngstown, Ohio, when Harry Burt, who owned an ice cream and candy shop, created a unique chocolate coating for his ice cream. While his daughter liked the taste she deemed it messy to eat, so his son suggested freezing the coated ice cream and inserting a stick. Already selling lollipops, Dad patterned the treat after his Jolly Boy Suckers, and the ice cream bar was born. Closely resembling the invention of an Iowa entrepreneur who had come up with the Eskimo Pie a year earlier, Burt ran (or rather drove) with it, executing his unique distribution of taking the product to his customers rather than waiting for them to come to his shop. Apparently great minds think alike, because several years later the Popsicle was born but made with frozen fruit-flavored juices, not ice cream.
Product pictures were on the outside of the truck but we didn’t need them, since we all had our favorites, and the Good Humor man always knew which little door to open, extracting our requests in a flash. On busy city streets, push carts often flanked sidewalks with a limited selection, but one thing that never changed was the instantly recognizable drawing of the chocolate-covered ice cream bar.
The Good Humor name obviously was derived from America’s love of sweets and the up-and-coming ice cream novelty business. Not much has changed since then except the large selection of frozen treats now available, but clearly Good Humor was a pioneer. In an effort to distribute his new creation, Although somewhat primitive in the 1920s, Burt came up with early vending trucks equipped with tinkling bells to alert children that frozen treats were in the neighborhood, a clever and inventive way to merchandise his newfound creation. It was an instant hit. Push carts soon followed to capture city dwellers and not clog up street traffic. The Good Humor Man in his starched white uniform was a minor celebrity on his route and became a household name in the 50s and 60s, often featured in movies.
Not surprising, the company recognized the importance of mass distribution in grocery stores, and during the mid-1970s Good Humor bars took their rightful place alongside Popsicles and Eskimo Pies. Merging with Popsicle and Klondike, the three now dominate the novelty ice cream market.
Although Klondike reigns as America’s most popular ice cream bar, the addition of the Oreo Ice Cream sandwich tops Good Humor brand’s repertoire (not surprising, with the wildly popular Oreo Cookie taste) followed by Strawberry Shortcake in second place and Chocolate Eclair a close third. Sadly, some of the original classics, like Chocolate Malt, are no longer on the menu but linger in the memories of many Boomers (including this author’s).
Although the familiar white truck of the 40s and 50s has all but disappeared, and many other choices have popped up in supermarket freezers, the sight and sound of that truck will remain indelibly in the minds and hearts of Boomers, and nothing else will ever quite take their place.