Ice cream has been a part of Lebanon County family traditions for generations, purchased at a soda shop, dairy, or grocery store. What you might not know is that Lebanon County’s history is also dotted with ice cream manufacturers themselves. These companies ranged from mom-and-pop shops to fairly large manufacturers, and produced various types of products and flavors for the people of Lebanon County and beyond.
The peculiar origins of ice cream
Ice cream is a legendary frozen confection enjoyed all over the world. However, it has peculiar origins. Throughout the ages, the precursors to the smooth creamy treat we know today were actually crunchy icy products.
It was reported that Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was delighted by honey- and wine-flavored icy drinks. However, it wasn’t until the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) that frozen milk-like drinks and desserts were introduced. In the Middle Ages (5th to the late 15th centuries), the Arabs created an icy refreshment flavored with cherry or pomegranate, called sherbet. By the 17th century, ice drinks flavored with sugar were being made into frozen desserts, called sorbet. Milk-based sorbet, created by Antonio Latini (1642-1692), is considered by culinary historians to be the first “official” ice cream.
It is likely that European immigrants introduced ice cream to the Americas. Stories that Thomas Jefferson did so are not backed by the historical record, but he was the first American to write an ice cream recipe. The first recipe book dedicated to ice cream was published in Europe in 1768. Ice cream was then so expensive that only aristocrats and the wealthy could afford it, a pint costing as much as a common worker’s weekly salary.
During the 1700s through the 1800s, manufacturing techniques improved as ice cream evolved into the product we know today. Also, during this time, the cost of ice cream was drastically reduced as the Atlantic slave trade made sugar an abundant and affordable product in Europe and the Americas.
Ice cream during Prohibition
Prohibition in the United States outlawed the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. It lasted from 1920 to 1933, and it had disastrous effects around the country, including widespread corruption, the loss of thousands of jobs, the loss of governmental revenue, an increase of income tax, and an increase of organized crime.
One of the positive effects of Prohibition, as far as the opinions of the ice cream industry are concerned, was an increase in ice cream production as ice cream parlors replaced many bars around the country. Several beer manufacturers, including Anheuser-Busch and Yuengling, opened ice cream factories during Prohibition to generate new revenue.
In 1920, the Yuengling Ice Cream Corporation was founded and established an ice cream plant at 5th St. and Mahantongo St. in Pottsville. Their ice cream products became so successful that they expanded branches to Allentown and York. In 1985, the company closed its operations after 65 years. In 2013, Yuengling’s Ice Cream started up again and is currently making 13 unique ice cream flavors, including Black & Tan, Butterbeer, and Vanilla Fudge Chunk with Pretzels.
Lebanon County’s ice cream makers (1800s to present)
Dating back to the 1800s, Lebanon County has had many ice cream makers, including the following 14 businesses. Some are all but forgotten, others are still fresh in the memories of many people, and one continues to make ice cream the old-fashioned way.
The smaller mom-and-pop shops made homemade ice cream, using natural ingredients, including fresh local milk, in the same building in which it was sold. The larger manufacturers made ice cream the old-fashioned way, using natural ingredients, including fresh local milk, but made it in separate manufacturing facilities and distributed it to their own and other retail outlets.
Gollam’s Ice Cream was founded by Christian B. Gollam in 1882 in Annville. In 1915, sons Roy and William joined the firm and it became known as C.B. Gollam & Sons. In 1916, the company built a new plant at 534 Maple St. in Lebanon, where it continued all of its ice cream operations. By 1940, the company had installed modern direct-expansion type freezers and was making 1,500 gallons of ice cream every five hours. The company changed its marketing slogan to “The cream of matchless merit.” Gollam’s made ice cream in Lebanon into the 1960s.
Lebanon Creamery Company was founded by John L. Meyer and A. L. Gettel in 1887. The plant was located at 7th St. and Willow St. in Lebanon. The company began by distributing milk and butter and soon purchased machinery to manufacture old-fashioned ice cream. By 1912, they had established a large chain of milk stations throughout Lebanon County and gained a reputation as excellent ice cream makers. The success of the company caught the attention of Milton S. Hershey, who directed the Hershey Chocolate Company to buy the Lebanon Creamery Company in 1913. Hershey had purchased a $300 ticket for the maiden fateful voyage of the Titanic, but had to return from Europe earlier on the steamship Amerika because of pressing business dealings, including those reportedly involving local creameries.
Kunst’s Ice Cream was founded by Paul Kunst on June 23, 1888. The ice cream factory was located at 502-504 Spruce St. Kunst’s ice cream parlor and the highly regarded Vienna Bakery was located at 42 N. 9th St. in Lebanon. Kunst installed the latest machinery and equipment available at the time and, by 1916, had the capacity to produce 100 gallons of old-fashioned ice cream per hour. In the early 1900s, Kunst’s won awards at the Lebanon County Fair for purity and quality. The company used the marketing catchphrase, “The kind with the better taste.”
Krill’s Ice Cream was founded by David Krill around 1894. The plant and store were located at 6th St. and Lehman St. Krill’s was known for making homemade brick and fancy forms of ice cream. In the 1890s and into the early 1900s, Krill’s employed “Hokey-Pokey” boys (street vendors) who sold ice cream from stands attached to horse-drawn express wagons throughout the City of Lebanon. In 1921, David Krill closed the Krill’s Ice Cream company and assumed the position of supervisor of high-grade ice cream manufacturing for John E. Hartman, the motor transportation businessman, who was distributing old-fashioned ice cream to larger cities. In 1934, despite the hardships of the Great Depression, the Krill family opened a new ice cream plant and store at 512 N. 8th St. in Lebanon. According to a May 11, 1934 article in the Lebanon Daily News, this ice cream plant was “fully equipped with every piece of machinery necessary … a modern steam-driven motor operated the entire plant, for mixing, ice crushing, steam sterilizing of cans, etc.”
Burdan Brother’s Ice Cream Manufacturers was founded by Harrie and Charlie Burdan in 1899 in Pottstown. In 1914, they purchased the Lebanon Creamery on Partridge St. near the Cornwall & Lebanon Railroad Station in Lebanon. Burdan’s Ice Cream grew into the largest old-fashioned ice cream manufacturer in the City of Lebanon’s history. In 1924, the United States Dairy Products Corporation of Philadelphia purchased Burdan’s Ice Cream and all of its real estate holdings. Burdan’s ice cream continued to be made in Lebanon County into the 1950s.
Ulrich’s Ice Cream & Confectionery was founded by Charles Ulrich around 1915. The ice cream factory was located at 535-537 Walnut St. in Lebanon. Ulrich’s made pure homemade ice cream in flavors that included chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and lemon. Ulrich’s remained in business until the mid-1920s.
Englehart’s Ice Cream was founded by Jere Englehart around 1917. The store was located at 4 N. 9th St. in Lebanon. Their innovative homemade flavors included peach, huckleberry, orange, apricot, lemon and bisque. Englehart’s remained in business until the late 1920s.
Ziegler’s Ice Cream was founded by Paul H. Ziegler in 1922. The ice cream factory and retail store were located at 907 Quentin Rd. in Lebanon. Ziegler’s changed their homemade flavors according to the season of the year. The company used the marketing motto, “A business based on quality,” and advertised weekly flavor specials. Ziegler’s closed their ice cream business and sold the building in 1974.
Bechtel’s Ice Cream was founded in 1926 by William T. Bechtel. The company had a plant and store located at 513-515 Canal St. in Lebanon, where they made and sold homemade ice cream. The company advertised their ice cream as being made locally with all-natural ingredients. The company was dissolved in the 1960s.
Grubb’s Ice Cream Manufacturing Company started in 1932 in Bachmansville, PA, and moved to Cleona in 1946. The company had both a plant and ice cream parlor in their building on Route 422. In 1953, the company was sold and was known as Grubb’s Gold Seal Ice Cream for a short period of time. The company used the marketing motto, “The cream with that sealed-in flavor.”
Beck’s Ice Cream was founded in 1934 by Elmer I. Beck. The company had a plant and store located at 5th St. and Walnut St. in Lebanon. In 1934, Beck’s installed the state-of-the-art Russ Brothers Rapid Freezer System, which allowed ice cream to be made fresh at all times. A family member, Eckert E. Beck, purchased the business in 1944. In the late 1940s, the business was expanded and Beck’s Ice Cream Bar and Restaurant opened at 38 S. 9th St. in Lebanon. The company remained in business until the mid-1950s.
Spangler’s Ice Cream was founded by Pete Spangler in 1937 to sell homemade ice cream in the parking lots of local businesses. He opened up a shop on New St. in Lebanon, and his son Harold moved the business to 929 Mt. Zion Rd. in Lebanon in 1948. In addition to their retail shop, Spangler’s sold ice cream around Lebanon County from two trucks during the 1940s and 1950s. The company provided between 14 and 16 flavors of ice cream at all times and made around 50 different flavors throughout the year. Many people believe that the bubble-gum-pink-colored teaberry was their finest flavor. Teaberry is a small red fruit found throughout the eastern United States and is a favorite around the state of Pennsylvania. Interestingly, it does not taste at all like tea or berries. Spangler’s sold their business around 1990. Pete’s Scoopers, makers of old-fashioned ice cream, opened in the previous Spangler’s building in 1991 and remained in business until around 1997.
Gold Seal Ice Cream was sold to Robert A. and Sarah Ellen Gollam from L.B. and Catherine S. Grubb in 1953. The company was originally called Grubb’s Gold Seal Ice Cream and had an ice cream plant, bar and restaurant located along Route 422 at W. Penn St. and Wilson St. in Cleona. By 1954, the company was known as Gold Seal Ice Cream and was selling pre-packed and bulk old-fashioned ice cream. During the 1960s and into the 1970s, Gold Seal became Pennsylvania’s largest independent ice cream manufacturer, as they were producing four million quarts per year. Their distribution network extended throughout eastern Pennsylvania. Gold Seal continued using the former Grubb’s Ice Cream marketing slogan, “The cream with that sealed-in flavor.” In 1977, Gold Seal Ice Cream’s distribution assets and ongoing business were purchased by Green’s Dairy, Inc. of York.
Patches Family Creamery was founded in 2009 and is currently operating from 201 Fonderwhite Rd. in Lebanon. The company has an ice cream retail store and processing plant where they make 25 flavors. Their family farm supplies all the fresh milk for their ice cream manufacturing, as they are keeping the Lebanon County tradition of making old-fashioned ice cream alive. Today in the U.S., the majority of ice cream manufacturing is controlled by large regional and national companies, so Patches Family Creamery represents one of the few small companies still making ice cream the old-fashioned way.
Ice cream’s popularity continues to grow
By the 1970s, Americans were credited with many ice cream innovations, including the chocolate-coated ice cream bar, the ice cream sandwich, the sundae, and the ice cream float. Americans also became the per capita world’s leading consumers of ice cream. Recently, Americans have fallen second behind the Chinese.
Today, ice cream is more than a $60 billion per year global industry, and it is forecast to grow to about $75 billion by 2024.
Thanks to Lebanon County history buff Pat Rhen for providing some information for this article.
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