The Inside Scoop on Ice Cream in Bellingham in the early 20th century

On June 25, 1920, little Katherine Korthauer was celebrating her birthday with friends when disaster struck. As the Bellingham Herald later reported, “the milk of human kindness turned to ice cream” when “prowling boys stole” the party’s ice cream. News of the theft reached Bellingham Post Office clerks and carriers celebrating their annual picnic at nearby Fairhaven Park. Feeling sorry for Katherine and her friends, they brought enough ice cream for all to the grateful children.

As this story shows, ice cream was a favorite food in early 20th century Bellingham. Although ice cream is now readily available at all grocery stores and specialty ice cream shops, it was much harder to get hold of back then. Although ice cream has a long history, advances in refrigeration have made it more available and affordable.

“The warm weather is with us”, the Bellingham Herald wrote on August 4, 1921. “Ice cream is not a luxury but has good nutritional value as well as a cooling effect.”

Someone could find the delicious treat in the area’s ice cream parlors and soda fountains, which were at their peak at that time. Many pharmacies had soda fountains, which often made more money from ice cream and soft drink concoctions than from drugs. According to a Collins & Co. Drug Store advertisement in the August 4, 1911, issue of Bellingham Heraldfor five cents, customers could buy an ice cream soda made with a big scoop of any flavor from the Ford Creamery Company and “pure crystal water, double-filtered, carbonated and left in reservoirs of fridge”.

This Bellingham Herald advertisement from January 26, 1922 promotes the ice cream bar ‘Tulip Ice’, nominated by Nix Lidstone in a competition. Photo courtesy of Washington State Library

As for ice cream parlors, people could find Silver Beach and the Artic next to the Silver Beach amusement park entrance in 1907 or try an ice cream soda at Engberg (“You know the kind we serve”, reads an enigmatic Bellingham Herald announcement of April 16, 1904).

If you wanted to take ice cream home rather than eat it out, you can buy ice cream directly from local dairies and creameries (and some grocery stores). Making ice cream was big business for local dairy farmers. The Royal Dairy (on Champion Street) prides itself on Bellingham Herald on April 9, 1911, that it could produce 60 gallons of frozen dessert in an hour.

But to sell their ice cream, these companies needed to reassure their customers about the safety of their products, as food safety concerns grew while regulations remained limited. “The word quality is stamped on every particle of ice cream that leaves this dairy,” the Royal Dairy promised in a Bellingham Herald advertisement broadcast on April 9, 1911.

Ice cream was not the only product available in these dairies. The Ideal Dairy (at the corner of Holly and Prospect streets), for example, also sold a wide variety of other dairy products, including cheese, cream, butter, cream cheese, Limburger cheese, milk, buttermilk and cottage cheese, as well as eggs, cakes, cookies, candies, pies and fresh fruit in season. Their ice cream cost five cents per dish “cafeteria style”, 15 cents a pint and a quarter liter according to an October 31, 1913 advertisement in the Bellingham Herald.

A child enjoys ice cream circa 1913. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Perhaps the most convenient way to buy ice cream (including ice cream cones) was from street vendors. The industry took a hit in the summer of 1909 when the city passed an ordinance prohibiting hawkers from loudly advertising their wares. But as the Bellingham Herald reported on July 5, a man named John Cissna was able to circumvent this new ordinance by naming the horse driving his delivery cart “Ice Cream and Buttermilk.” There was no law, after all, against someone leading his horse by name.

If you were feeling creative in the early 20th century, you could try making your own ice cream with a hand-cranked ice cream freezer, which sold for two dollars at The Jenkins-Boys Co. according to a July 2, 1921 advertisement.

The Bellingham Herald published a number of recipes for different flavored ice creams. Perhaps the most unusual recipe was for “Brown Bread Ice Cream”, published on December 15, 1922, which suggested mixing brown breadcrumbs into ice cream. “Ice Cream Curiosities” Recommended by the Bellingham Herald on September 23, 1905, even included topping it with popcorn.

Wherever you found your ice cream, it was a popular thing to serve at picnics and events. “Coffee, punch and ice cream were as free as water” Bellingham Herald wrote of a picnic of employees of the Puget Sound Traction, Light and Power Company, July 31, 1918, in Fairhaven Park, where more than a thousand people devoured 125 gallons of ice cream.

Groups could also use ice cream to raise money for charity. In July 1913, the Whatcom Falls Park Club held an “Ice Cream Booster Picnic” in the park to raise funds to purchase more land along the creek. York’s band played while the audience enjoyed ice cream all afternoon and evening.

The way we get ice cream today has become much more convenient than at the turn of the 20th century – and there are now many more choices for people with dietary restrictions. There’s no doubt that ice cream remains a popular treat. From grocery stores and ice cream parlours, to creations made in our own kitchens with state-of-the-art appliances, Bellingham’s love for ice cream continues throughout the summer and, truly, all seasons of the year.

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