By 1910, Harry Burt’s business was booming. He had introduced a Good Humor Candy Sucker – a classic hard candy sucker on a wooden stick – and his retail operations were packed with guests. It was around this time, too, that he got a boost of really cheap labor in the factory – his son, Harry Jr., could be found turning the cranks in the ice cream freezer.
Together, father and son worked on the pesky ice cream problem: finding the right blend of chocolate to coat frozen blocks of ice cream and create a bar. They knew they wanted to coat their ice cream in a chocolate candy coating but struggled to find the right mixture that wasn’t too brittle when frozen. It was January of 1920 that they blended the chocolate coating with cocoa butter and coconut oil and the perfect coating was found! No brittleness at all. But – those messy hands! How could they present or package their new ice cream bar to keep hands clean?
On August 19, 1949, a special radio program, Just For You, presented by the G. M. McKelvey Company told this story to its listeners…
Success stories are always fascinating, as well as inspiring. The August 20 Saturday Evening Post carries a modern success story which is interesting enough of itself … but is particularly interesting to folks here in Youngstown because it is the story of a Youngstown family.
Back in 1920… old timers will remember, Harry Burt Sr. was known as the “Quality Ice Cream, Candy and Baking Man” of Youngstown, and his ice cream parlor on North Phelps Street was one of the most popular spots in town. Mr. Burt Sr. had invented a candy lollipop called a “Good Humor” sucker… so named because of the then widely held belief that the humor of the mind was regulated by the humors of the palate. One side of its wrapper showed an empty-handed girl sobbing – and the opposite, a happy girl eating a sucker.
On a particular January night in the year 1920, Mr. Burt was assisted by his 21-year-old son, Harry Jr. His 23-year-old daughter, Ruth, sat at the cash register, and to her he described, between customers, a novelty ice cream with which he was experimenting; for at this time, although ice cream cones and stickless Eskimo pies were in existence, there were few ice cream innovations. People ate it off plates, in blissful ignorance of what was to come as a result of this night’s work.
Mr. Burt’s experiments dealt with an especially smooth chocolate coating he had perfected to cover a small block of vanilla ice cream.
“It makes for the perfect blending with the ice cream in your mouth,” he told Ruth. He sent Harry Jr. to bring a sample from the cellar. Ruth pronounced it delicious.
“But,” she added, wiping chocolate off her fingers, “it’s too messy to handle.”
Harry Jr.’s eyes fell on the boxes of lollipops. He said, “let’s put handles on them the way we do on candy suckers.”
Burt said, “I think we’ve got something!” And thus was born the idea which has developed into a nation-wide business known as the Good Humor Corporation with assets of over two million dollars!
Many of you listening right now will remember those familiar white trucks which used to dispense Good Humors back in the early twenties. That’s all the time we have for today… we’ll be back Monday long about coffee time… Until then here is our Little Thought for the Day: We must always have old memories and young hopes.”
The process they developed that night was simple – soften the bricks of ice cream to insert the wooden stick, refreeze the ice cream, and then dip the cut bricks into the new chocolate coating. It worked and the face of ice cream was forever changed. They borrowed the Good Humor name from the candy sucker and the Good Humor Ice Cream Sucker was born. Patenting the process, though, was a bigger challenge.
Legend has it that Burt and his son packed the ice cream up into a gallon can filled with ice and salt and went to George B. Mansell’s house. They awoke the Notary Public from his sleep, it was around 2:00 am, and they all worked together to get the affidavits in order. A few days later, the patent applications were in the mail to Washington DC. Nothing came through for three years! In 1923, Burt traveled to the U. S. Patent office to demonstrate his creation. With him, he took a five gallon can of Good Humors and walked right into the Patent office. He basically shoved his ice cream suckers into their mouths and demanded an answer. After eating, the lawyers happily signed the patent.
Meanwhile, business back in Youngstown did not wait for those patents to come through. It was right around the time that Burt began selling those Good Humor Ice Cream Suckers that one of the most iconic images of ice cream was born. There were 12 Good Humor Ice Cream trucks driving through the streets of Youngstown, each with their own Good Humor Man. The sound of the bells – taken from Harry Jr.’s bobsled – signaled that sweet treats were on their way.
Harry Burt designed the look of the Good Humor Man, dressed in a clean and crisp white uniform. The look was meant to project an image of a clean, wholesome, and trustworthy man. Good Humor trucks and the Good Humor Man have had a lasting legacy in both ice cream culture and the power and brand marketing. They have been featured in toys, books, and movies. They have been referenced in cartoons and comic strips, online memes, and even appeared alongside Garfield and the Marvel Man.
Check back in next month as we explore Burt’s expansion to 325 West Federal Street in downtown Youngstown.