You can hear it from blocks away – the endless loop of an ice cream truck’s catchy tune plinked out on what sounds like an amplified music box.
The music draws kids, pied-piper fashion, on hot summer days as the colorful truck slowly trolls the neighborhood streets, stopping every block to sell the ever-popular frozen treats -- Bomb Pops, Snow Cones, Rainbow Pops, Drumsticks, and soft-serve sundaes.
The first ice cream truck began roaming the streets of Youngstown, Ohio, selling packaged ice cream door-to-door. This was the invention of one Harry Burt. Harry’s idea quickly caught on as most home ice boxes and early electric refrigerators had only tiny freezer compartments, inadequate for storing ice cream. His original bevy of 12 refrigerated trucks became the first Good Humor fleet.
Burt also invented the original Good Humor Bar, ice cream on a stick dipped in chocolate, which ushered in the ice cream treats craze in the 1950s, that is still popular today.
The most common Ice cream truck songs in the U.S. include "The Band Played On," "Camptown Races," "The Entertainer," “Red Wing/Union Maid,” "If You're Happy and You Know It," "It's a Small World," "La Cucaracha," "Little Brown Jug," "Yankee Doodle," "The Mister Softee Jingle," "Pop Goes the Weasel," "Sailing, Sailing," and “Turkey in the Straw.”
Some unauthorized versions of “Turkey in the Straw” were rewritten with overtly racist lyrics for 19th-century minstrel shows. Though the tunes were never played with lyrics on ice cream trucks, the Good Humor company decided to ditch the tune in 2020 and asked rapper and founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA, to compose a new ice cream truck jingle to replace it.
Ice cream truck tunes are not music to everyone’s ears. Played continuously, they may delight children, but drive everyone else nearby to distraction. In fact, many communities have adopted ordinances prohibiting the playing of music when the ice cream trucks are parked, and the operator is vending ice cream.
Though there are hundreds of different ice cream truck companies on the road these days, Good Humor and Mister Softee dominate this cool niche.
Credits: Header video, Envato Elements; 1970s Good Humor truck, Creative Commons; Mr. Softee truck, Creative Commons; vintage ice cream truck menu, Chescrowel/Flickr.