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Dessert on Wheels: How Did the First Ice Cream Truck Originate?

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ice cream truck history dessert van

How did ice cream trucks become so common?
Photo: the camera is a toy via CC

If there’s one sound that immediately stirs up nostalgic feelings of your childhood–or causes you to flinch if you’ve ever been stuck behind one in traffic–it’s the sound of music from an ice cream truck. While food trucks have only recently grown in popularity (thanks, foodies and hipsters), the ice cream truck has been a staple of local neighborhoods for decades.

But how did these mobile dessert dispensaries originate and what is their secret?

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History of the Ice Cream Truck

Ice cream and flavored ice was a luxurious delicacy for the aristocracy for centuries before it was served by these mobile retail outlets covered in cartoon images and pumping out jingles on loop.

Back in 1920, ice cream shop owner Harry Burt of Youngstown, Ohio, developed the first ice cream bar on a stick–like a chocolate-covered vanilla lollipop. His “Good Humor” bar sold like mad thanks to his use of 12 trucks driven by employees to sell the treat around town. Those early ice cream vans used blocks of dry ice to keep desserts cold and jingling bells to attraction attention.

Because of the cheap production cost and affordable per-item prices, Burt’s business was able to survive the Great Depression.

Within years, other dessert businesses were using trucks to promote and sell their goods too, making innovations like installing large refrigerators and playing simple tunes over loudspeakers. Some of these innovations came from the Conways, who started Mister Softee in the 1950s–a name you’ll still see on ice cream trucks today.

Despite the Good Humor trucks being retired in the 1970s, you’ll still see many ice cream vans on the road today as entrepreneurs and franchisees have purchased refrigeration trucks to sell treats. Even with the changing times and inflation, ice cream trucks remain a beloved member of neighborhoods on hot days when children need a cool treat.

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Sources: Wonderopolis, Mental Floss