Good Humor is an American brand of ice cream novelties sold from ice cream trucks as well as stores and other retail outlets. The "Good Humor Man" was a fixture in American popular culture for many decades. As late as the 1970s, the company operated 1200 "salescars". While the company sold its fleet in 1978, independent owners and operators continue this service.
The company's history includes many stories such a Good Humor man rushing a baby to a hospital for treatment or breaking up a counterfeit money operation in Long Island, New York. In 1929, the Chicago mob demanded protection money and destroyed part of the company's fleet. The resulting publicity helped put Good Humor on the map in the Windy City. During World War II, a Good Humor truck was assigned to follow one of the armies during maneuvers. The commander could not understand how the opposing artillery was quickly locating his position until he realized that the spotters were using the white Good Humor Truck as a guide. Rather than deny his troops ice cream, that night he ordered the truck be painted army green.
In company parlance, a “Good Humor” is a chocolate coated vanilla ice cream bar on a stick. Other “Good Humors” include chocolate coated chocolate (a.k.a. chocolate malt) and strawberry, plus bars coated in toasted almond, coconut, chocolate cake, strawberry shortcake and chocolate éclair. Weekly specials came in a wide assortment of flavors including a red, white and blue Good Humor for the 4th of July. In 1965, the company introduced “Super Humors”, initially Chocolate Chip Candy and Chocolate Fudge Cake with a candy center. The next year, all Good Humors became larger “Super Humors” to justify a price increase.
Good Humor also produced a variety of other novelties, including some unique items. The Humorette line included an especially popular raspberry sherbet with a peach ice cream center. “Double stixs” featured favor combinations such as raspberry/orange and lemon/lime. In Baltimore/Washington, inexpensive ice pops known as “lollies” were so successful that the company purchased special high capacity salescars for some routes.
Harry Burt, a Youngstown, Ohio candy maker, invented ice cream Good Humors about 1920 or 1921 and was granted a patent in 1923. By then, he had outfitted twelve street vending trucks in Youngstown with rudimentary freezers and bells. By 1925, his son, Harry Burt Jr. (1900 – 1972) opened a franchise in Miami, Florida.
After Burt died in 1926, his widow sold the rights to a group of Cleveland businessmen who established Good Humor of America. Tom Brimer purchased the franchise for the Detroit territory and by 1929 opened his second plant in Chicago. When Brimer paid a 25% dividend, he caught the attention of Michael J. Meehan, a notorious Wall Street stock speculator. With Brimer’s help, Meehan purchased 75% of the company for $500,000 and quickly took the company national.
Meehan’s Good Humor Corporation of America operated in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago. There were also three major franchises: Good Humor of Baltimore/Washington operated by the Brimer family, Burt’s Good Humor operated by Harry Burt Jr. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Good Humor of California.
The company was tremendously successful because it provided customers with an inexpensive diversion during the Depression. Jobs were scarce and Good Humor found all the employees it could use, despite an 80-hour work week and paramilitary discipline. While drivers were only paid commissions, it was not unusual for driver to clear the then princely sum of over $100 per week. The company was also successful in attracting favorable publicity by parking trucks outside of motion picture studios. Over the years, Good Humor appeared in over 200 movies. In 1950, Jack Carson starred in the feature motion picture, “The Good Humor Man.”
Almost from the beginning, Good Humor faced competition from companies such as Jack and Jill Ice Cream, Bungalow Bar, etc, but it wasn’t until the advent of soft ice cream trucks operated by companies such as Mister Softee in 1955 that competition seriously impacted average sales. The prosperity of the 1950s also dried up the labor pool, and Good Humor operated over half of its fleet with seasonal employees, mostly college students. On average, new employees lasted only two to three weeks because of the long hours.
In 1961, Good Humor of America and Good Humor of Baltimore/Washington were purchased by Thomas J. Lipton, a subsidiary of Unilever. In a separate transaction, the other franchises agreed to stop using the Good Humor name. Lipton created a grocery division to sell Good Humor products in supermarkets. To compete with Mister Softee, Good Humor replaced 40% of its older conventional trucks with large vans. Many of these vans are still operating after over 40 years!
However, as the baby boomers matured, sales on many suburban routes declined, and Good Humor became unprofitable beginning in 1968. Insurance costs increased because courts found ice cream vendors responsible for pedestrian accidents while crossing to and from the truck. Good Humor launched a safety program that cut the accident rate in half and successfully worked with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to equip vending trucks with school bus “stop” swing arms. When gasoline prices increased in the 1970s, Good Humor designed a lighter van for routes that didn’t need a high capacity unit.
Unfortunately, Good Humor was not able to solve the labor problem. The entire industry, except Good Humor, stopped using commissioned employees and became distributors who leased trucks to the drivers who then purchased product wholesale. Good Humor adopted this system wherever possible, but was prevented from converting most branches because of union contracts.
After absorbing losses for ten years, in 1978 Good Humor decided to sell the fleet to individuals and fleet operators and become a distributor itself. Ironically, many former competitors also became distributors of Good Humor products. The grocery division continued to expand and by 1984 Good Humor returned to profitability. In 1989, Lipton acquired Gold Bond Ice Cream based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and with it, the Popsicle family of frozen novelties. In 1993, Gold Bond-Good Humor added the Klondike Bar and the Breyers Ice Cream Company to make the renamed Good Humor-Breyers the largest American producer of both ice cream and frozen novelties. The Good Humor brand is now a part of Unilever's International "Heartbrand." See Heartbrand.