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Jul 08

Ice Cream Man Cometh – contributed by Stephan Rantz

Posted on July 8, 2022 at 9:31 AM by Tamara Vaughan

For as long as I can remember, ice cream has been a part of most celebrations, even if it were only to mark the occasion of a particularly sultry, summer day. Ice cream can make any day seem more festive, or at the very least, take one’s mind away from the heat of one’s troubles. The author Abbi Warman wrote, “Sometimes life is just what it is, and the best you can hope for is ice cream.” The legacy of ice cream has so permeated our culture that no one cares about its innate conundrum whereby the hotter a day is, the more you want ice cream, but the faster it melts. To be sure, the ephemeral nature of ice cream is part of its allure. 

 Illustration 1, title

Within a historical context, eating a dish of ice cream (cones weren’t invented until the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904) wasn’t always the carefree celebration we think of today. Before pasteurization and refrigeration became prevalent, ice cream could be a highly risky venture. Not only could the milk prove poisonous, but the custard base of the pre-churned ice cream could be contaminated as well. While an accidental poisoning might be memorable, it is certainly no way to entertain your guests and better off left to the imagination of mystery writers. 


Illustration 2, Durham Globe Poisoning
There are actually a surprising number of germs that can linger in raw milk, not to mention the incurred dangers when milk cows munch on any toxic weeds like snakeroot. Occasionally, newspaper headlines made somber announcements whenever there was a serious outbreak or death caused by “milk sickness.” Since ice cream was often homemade, newspapers tried to get the word out about how to process your ice cream safely. In 1889, The Charlotte Observer posed a very serious question to a visiting physician: “Then you assert there is death in ice cream?” The physician answered, “Most assuredly,” unless one makes efforts toward the purity of the ingredients and the cleanliness of the instruments. (September 11, 1889)

Another key factor when endeavoring to make ice cream was to cool your custard quickly. At the time the article below ran in an Asheville newspaper, it was still decades before most homes had acquired refrigeration. The writer recommends all the extra care one should take by cooling your custard in a cold-water bath. (By 1930, only 8% of American households had a refrigerator. -


Illustration 3, Asheville Weekly Poisoning

Because of the innate dangers of the process, commercial ice cream producers were usually successful. Not only could larger dairy companies afford the necessary equipment for cooling and pasteurization, but also they could easily distribute the ice cream to vendors and grocery stores. By 1916, North Carolina ice cream companies had to impress state inspectors in order to assure not only the quality, but also the cleanliness, of manufacture. 

 Illustration 4, High Point Enterprise


Antiquated pictures like the one below became a distant memory as High Point outlawed the sale of ice cream from vendor carts:

Illustration 5, Ordinance Hine Photo


Once regulations were set in place, the last obstacle to ice cream’s ubiquitous popularity was to convince consumers that ice cream was safe to enjoy. Advertisements in The High Point Enterprise often took the time to emphasize the cleanliness of their products. The High Point Candy Company stressed that their ice cream was “sanitarily prepared and served.” Arctic Ice Cream stated that they were “the last word in cleanliness and sanitation.” 

 Illustration 6, 1920 advertisements

Remember that companies were often paying by the size and/or word count of their ads, and they shelled out extra bucks to gain the public’s confidence over the integrity of their products. Mann Drugstore’s Purity Ice Cream advertisement of 1913 put all costs aside and wrote about not only their pasteurization process but also the “government inspected cows!” They assured shoppers that “human hands don’t touch it.” Now that sounds pretty immaculate!

Hart Drug Company took things even further and made the clerks and soda jerks shave their heads for the sake of sanitation. Their 1915 advertisement called their little bald male clerks ‘onion heads.’ They also warned the public: “Don’t eat hot dessert—It’s unhealthy.”


Illustration 8, Hart Drug Onion Heads

Once the public had confidence in the purity of the ice cream, that’s when advertising really started to get interesting:  it was not enough that ice cream was a safe, cold treat, but they ventured that it was healthy and even prescribed by doctors.

Illustration 9, Nutritious Ice Cream ads

Illustration 10, Lindale Dairy

Of course, High Point had a number of dairies that manufactured ice cream locally, and those of you who are “of age” as I am, remember well the dairy box on the stoop where the “milkman” would leave your orders of milk and cottage cheese. Ice cream was another matter, however. Mechanically-refrigerated trucks were in common use in the ice cream industry by the mid-1920s, and even Anderson’s drugstore could deliver Clover Brand Ice Cream to High Pointers in a Jeep equipped with a “dry ice refrigerator,” as shown in this 1951 advertisement. 

 Illustration 11, Clover Brand

The girls who worked at Gibson Ice Cream Company must have felt very popular considering that it was a highlight of the High Point drag strip. As Forrest Cates related in his This & That column for The High Point Enterprise: “Of course, the last thing a guy did at night was check the main drag. That consisted of driving down Main Street from Gibson’s Ice Cream to just below the post office and turning around in the middle of the street. You had to do that several times or it didn’t count as a full-fledged drag.” (Gibson Ice Cream Company was located at the present location of Hunter Farms/Maola Milk processing plant, 1900 North Main Street.)

Illustration 12, Gibson Ice Cream

 I’m certain these Gibson Girls would not have tolerated shaving their heads as required by the Hart Drug Company in the earlier part of the century.

One might find the youth of today spreading the joys of ice cream and dating on TikTok rather than the old cruising dragstrips of yore. They are also probably better informed about the high fat and sugar content found in real ice cream, and perhaps they would even laugh about the old concept of ice cream as a nutritious food. However, the fact remains that a cold scoop of ice cream is still a special treat, no matter age or calorie count. Don Kardong said it best: “Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.” 

Ice cream binds all of us together, at least in our collective memory where it is eternally summer. Ice cream represents a long chain of scientific progress just to put smiles on our faces. While the science behind ice cream cannot combat global warming or its effects, it certainly can help you take your mind off it, if only momentarily. 

 Now, what are they going to do about brain freeze?



Stephan Rantz is a Research Associate in the Heritage Research Center at the High Point Public Library. Contact him at 336.883.3637 or Stephan is also responsible for the attractive and educational displays outside the Heritage Research Center on the second floor of the Library. 






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