The summer is filled with plenty of activities, from going on holiday, to soaking up the sun. Summer wouldn’t be complete without the familiar jingle of ice cream vans bringing people out of their homes to enjoy a frosty treat. Classic ice cream vans are a rare and beautiful sight on the road. At the height of their popularity in the 1960s, some 30,000 vans were recorded. Today, there are around 5000 left. Where did the ice cream van come from and what made them so popular back in the day?
Ice cream had existed for centuries before vans were invented. The Roman Emperor Nero was rumoured to have sent runners into the mountains to collect fresh snow and flavour it with fruit juices. Since then, vendors have transported ice cream from horse-carts, goat-carts and cars.
No one knows who invented the first ice cream van, but according to lore, New Yorker Thomas Carvellos began selling cones from his truck in 1929. One day, his truck hit a bump that caused a flat tyre and left him stranded with melting ice cream. Instead of giving up, Carvellos continued selling the ice cream and customers seemed to enjoy them more than a fully frozen dessert.
The appeal of a good jingle
As the ice cream van industry started to grow, vendors found they could attract customers by playing a catchy jingle. Interestingly, the jingles were often folk songs native to the region. For example, the traditional English folk song Greensleeves is the most-used jingle for an ice cream van.
One of the most successful British ice cream van companies was Mr Whippy. It was founded by Dominic Facchino in Birmingham in 1958. He’d visited the US and saw the success of Mister Softee. Facchino was a fan of Henry VIII, who’s credited with writing Greensleeves. The Mr Whippy logo, a cherub style ice cream cone wearing a bert, is a nod to Henry’s preferred headwear.
Mr Whippy achieved massive success in the UK and expanded to Australia and New Zealand. The company predated fast food in both countries, as there were no McDonalds or KFC at the time. Over time, ‘Mr Whippies’ became a generic term for ice cream vendors and other vendors adopted the classic Greensleeves jingle.
A lasting memory
Today, jingles might seem outdated and cheesy by modern standards, but that doesn’t stop them from having a place. The appeal of ice cream vans can be linked to their nostalgia factor. An ice cream van’s jingle is distinctive and they’ll continue to attract customers all over the world.