An ice cream vendor in New York hands a young girl an ice cream, circa 1920.
Image Credit: Elizabeth R. Hibbs/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Before the tinny melody of “Pop Goes The Weasel” brought swarms of sweaty kids to the streets for an ice cream cone, mobile ice cream vendors used more primitive—and less sanitary—means.
In the late 19th century, vendors sold dishes of ice cream from carts cooled with ice blocks, which meant customers would lick their dish clean and then return it to the seller to use for his next customer. Not exactly a model of hygiene.
Before widespread milk pasteurization, ice cream also came topped with the threat of bacteria that could cause scarlet fever, tuberculosis, and other extreme ailments.
The frozen treat became safer to order after studies of typhoid in New York implicated raw milk, causing most cities to require pasteurization, and inventions like the ice cream cone made that whole sharing dishes issue disappear.
Technological advances around the same time made refrigeration easier and scoopers traded in their carts for cars.
Ice cream trucks, which first appeared in the 1920s, have seen something of a resurgence in recent years as other food trucks have flourished and anything vintage has become hipster cool, but the once-ubiquitous carts tend to remain relegated to zoos, amusement parks, and other touristy areas.