Ohio’s Ice Cream Innovation: The Novelty Bar

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The dog days of summer make many reminisce about cooling down at the pool or at the ice cream truck with a good old ice cream bar.   There are many ice cream novelty bars. My favorite at the PRF pool of my youth were chocolate and strawberry Scooter Crunches.   Apparently, they were made by the Frecker Ice Cream Company of Columbus, Ohio.   I took for granted the genius and convenience of these delicious ice cream bars on a stick.   I also didn’t know that ice cream on a stick was invented in my home Buckeye state.   How cool is that?

Scooter Crunches, came in chocolate and strawberry shortcake, and were known as sundae bars. They are made of a core of chocolate or strawberry ice cream. Then, there is a layer of vanilla ice cream. After another thin chocolate or strawberry layer, the outside of the treat is covered in “crunchies,” which are the best part of these bars.

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Christian Nelson an Onowa, Iowa, schoolteacher patented a chocolate coated ice cream bar, the Eskimo Pie, in 1922. But it was an Ohioan who invented chocolate covered ice cream on a stick – and thus the novelty ice cream bar market.   In 1920, Harry Burt, owner of a Youngstown, Ohio, ice cream parlor began tests to create a chocolate covered ice cream bar.   He used his daughter, Ruth, as a tester, and although she liked his smooth chocolate coating, she said it was too messy.   Harry’s son, suggested using a wooden stick like a lollipop, as a handle to solve the messiness issue.   So, they tested and found the stick formed a strong bond when the ice cream crystallized, and thus ice cream on a stick – the Good Humor Bar – was born.

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Harry Burt, creator of the Good Humor Bar and ice cream on a stick.

Apparently Youngstown, Ohio, was a hotbed of novelty ice cream innovation.   The Klondike bar was first mentioned in 1922 in the Youngstown Vindicator as an invention William Isaly, son of Swiss immigrants, who also owned a dairy there.   In addition to the Klondike, Isaly’s sold a famous chipped ham sandwich and Skyscraper Cones.   They later partnered with Kraft Foods to distribute the bar, and Kraft knocked it off with their own, instigating huge litigation.

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Burt outfitted twelve street vending trucks in Youngstown with men in white uniforms and bowties, and simple freezers and bells to sell his “Good Humor Ice Cream Suckers” in 1920.   This was the grandfather of my favorite Scooter Crunch Sundae Bars and many other novelty bars to come.   Burt applied for patents in 1922, but they were not granted until 1923 because the patent office found his creation too close to the already patented Eskimo Pie.   So, Burt visited the patent office in D.C. with samples, and they were granted – for the equipment and process to manufacture frozen ice cream novelties on a stick – not the actual product, like the Eskimo Pie.   Not patenting the actual product allowed other regional and later, larger ice cream companies, to make knockoff sundae bars, making the family tree of novelty pops like the Scooter Crunch, hard to trace.

This also presented a trade conflict when Frank Epperston began marketing frozen ice on a stick with his newly formed Popsicle Corporation in 1923.   He had originally called his accidental invention (he left out a syrupy drink with a stirring stick in the cold) the Epsicle, but his kid’s called it ‘Pop’s Sickle’, which was the name that won.   Burt saw this and sued Epperston, creating a great popsicle war, but they settled out of court. In the deal, Popsicle licensed the frozen ice and sherbet –on-a-stick market, while Burt kept exclusive rights to the ice cream, frozen custard, and other creams-on-a-stick market.

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Burt passed away in 1926 and his widow, Cora, sold her interest to the Midland Food Products Company, a group of Cleveland biz execs, who changed the company name to the Good Humor Corporation of America.   They saw dollar signs and started selling Good Humor franchises across the country for a minimal $100 down payment.   Cora, smartly kept the license agreement with Popsicle.

A man named Thomas Brimer purchased a Good Humor franchise in Detroit.   When he refused the mob’s $5000 ‘protection fee’ of his ice cream trucks, they destroyed a fleet of his Chicago trucks in retaliation.     With the rule of no publicity being bad publicity, this incident helped put Good Humor on the map.

Enter the Frecker Ice Cream Company of Columbus, Ohio, in 1937. Eddie Frecker had operated a popular restaurant called the Lookout House in Grandview, Ohio, at the Grand Theater Building on High Street, near where the hipster Northstar Restaurant is today. He opened his ice cream factory and started making ice cream pops just like the Good Humor company.     All references to Scooter Crunch on the web give the Frecker company credit, saying that all others are knockoffs.   But it’s not clear that they invented the Scooter Crunch, only that they made it in their novelty ice cream plant in Columbus until recently.

So, to trace the origin of the Scooter Crunch Sundae bars is difficult.    A vintage label from the 1970s shows the Scooter Crunch brand was made at an Alabama plant of the Flav-o-Rich company of Louisville, Kentucky.   An ice skating polar bear in a knit cap and sweater was their logo.   That’s the packaging I remember from my youth swim club days.   It would be cool that the favorite ice cream bar of my youth was invented in my home state, but its spurious birth origin might never be found.

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A 1970s Scooter Crunch wrapper.

Flav-o-Rich was acquired by the Blue Bell Company.   Today both Hershey’s and Greenie’s use the Scooter Crunch brand, and both Flav-o-Rich and the Frecker Ice Cream Company are gone, so it’s possible no one owns the brand exclusively.   Perry’s, Good Humor, Blue Ribbon, and Blue Bunny all make knockoffs that they call Sundae Crunch Bars. Good Humor has added a Toasted Almond Crunch Sundae bar and an Éclair Sundae Crunch Bar to their line.

I found a recipe online for a version of the Scooter Crunch Strawberry Bar that uses freeze dried, crushed strawberries for the crunchies. Let’ see if I can recreate the flavor of my summer youth!

 

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