Business and Labor

Flashback Photos: New England’s Love Affair With Ice Cream

New England’s long love affair with ice cream burst into full flower with the soda fountain, where it was served, and the automobile, which ushered in a whole new kind of retail commerce. Yankee ingenuity contributed to both.

The Rev. Wolcott Cutter took this photograph of eight baby carriages standing in front of Biagiotti’s Ice Cream Parlor in Charlestown, Mass. Courtesy Boston Public Library.

The soda fountain owes its American existence to a Yale chemistry professor named Benjamin Silliman. In 1806 he bought from England newly invented equipment that impregnated water with carbon dioxide. He called it soda water. Silliman began selling it in New Haven, Conn. Sales were brisk, so he invented a bigger machine, took in three partners and opened soda fountains along the East Coast.

The automobile also owes much to New England, where the Duryea brothers and Stanley twins pioneered early automobile designs.

Howard Johnson's in Kennebunk, Maine.

Howard Johnson’s in Kennebunk, Maine, courtesy Boston Public Library.

Howard Johnson’s grew from a Quincy, Mass., soda fountain in 1925 to a chain of a thousand restaurants – partly on the strength of its 28 flavors of butterfat-rich ice cream. This postcard was printed as a cheap form of advertisement sometime between 1930 and 1945. The Howard Johnson’s restaurant chain has dwindled to one.

Hoodsie

Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

The Boston Herald’s indomitable photographer Leslie Jones took this photo of a wrecked H.P. Hood & Sons ice cream wagon in August 1921. The horse ran wild down Beacon Street in Boston, according to the caption.

Photo courtesy Boston Public Library.

Photo courtesy Boston Public Library.

Hayward Farms opened its first ice cream stand in Milford, N.H., in 1940 by Charles P. and Fredericka Hayward.  Later a second store opened in Nashua. Milk from the couple’s 150 cows was originally used to make ice cream. (Now the cows are gone.) During World War II, Hayward farms sometimes only opened for three days a week because of the sugar scarcity.  

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The caption for this photo reads, “Buffalo Hill, Aroostook County, Maine. Farm woman dishing out homemade wild strawberry ice cream, one of the refreshments served in the social period after Congregational church service in a one-room schoolhouse.”

John Collier, Farm Security Administration photographer, took the photo in May 1943. Another photo shows girls handing out the ice cream, along with cookies and flavorade. Collier was in Aroostook County photographing the potato planting and spring log drive.

Ice Cream Bars

Photo courtesy Boston Public Library.

Photo courtesy Boston Public Library.

The Shady Glen Dairy Farm Ice Cream Bar in Manchester, Conn., started when John and Bernice Rieg decided to diversify their farm. They bought a small cottage in 1948 and built it into an ice cream store with 47 seats. It was so successful they opened another.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Photographer Russell Lee of the Farm Security Administration took this photo of an ice cream stand near Berlin, Conn., in October 1939. He also took photos of roadside displays of pumpkins, squash, apples and quince in Berlin.

Photo courtesy Boston Public Library.

Photo courtesy Boston Public Library.

We don’t know much about Little Jack Horner’s in Brookline, Mass., but we suspect the locals visited it often.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Charles Plante took this photograph of The Milk Can as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey, a National Park Service agency. It’s unclear when he took it, but its exact location was clear: Louisquisset Turnpike, Route 146, Saylesville, Kent County, R.I.

Snack Food Merchandising

Plante’s caption was far too serious for ice cream! He called the big milk can ‘a characteristic example of a distinctive and fast-disappearing phase of the first period of automobile-oriented commerce.’

It represents ‘the earliest period of snack food merchandising,’ he wrote.

Such ‘mimetic architecture’ had its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, he continued, but examples had become rare.

…the Milk Can’s owner, who built in an era of individual entrepreneurship, required a structure which could demand the motorist’s notice, immediately focus his attention, and act as an advertisement for itself.

This story was updated in 2019.

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