The humble ice-cream van is a childhood staple for many of us and this tradition has fortunately lived on despite the ease in which frozen foods can be bought from supermarkets. But this wasn’t always the case. When mobile ice-cream vendors first hit the streets of the UK refrigeration was expensive and rare – meaning households relied on deliveries of chilled or frozen food.
When researching for this article, we were surprised to find that flavoured ice products are by no means a recent invention. As far back as the first century AD, Emperor Nero was reported to send runners to the nearby mountains to collect snow, then had it flavoured – in what can only be described as the first recorded slushie.
Yet, the concept of a portable store for frozen products didn’t surface until the mid-1800s. According to Honours Ice Cream, in 1850AD horse-drawn carriages could be seen selling ice-cream around the UK, captured in sketches and photographs of the time period.
So the first surprising fact about ice-cream vans is: they’ve been around for a lot longer than you think. But there are several more facts which will surprise you:
1. The first soft ice-cream was a complete accident
Today, Carvel is a well-known American ice-cream brand, but you might be surprised to know the company’s namesake, Tom Carvel, invented soft ice-cream by mistake. According to Wikipedia, Tom Carvel was seen selling ice-cream from his van as far back as 1929, but the concept of selling it in a soft form only emerged in 1934 – due to a flat tyre.
You see, Tom Carvel was selling ice-cream during memorial day – a day of remembrance for World War 1 – when his tyre went flat. Rather than let this get him down, Tom decided to sell the partially melted ice-cream from his truck. To his surprise, the customers actually preferred the softer texture and he sold out completely in just two days.
The concept was a hit and Carvel is still going today, more than 80 years on.
2. Ice-cream vans used to announce their presence by ringing a handbell
Today, ice-cream vans are likely to play catchy songs like the Teddy Bears Picnic or Greensleeves. But this hasn’t always been the case. According to the BBC, ice-cream vans used to announce their presence by ringing a handbell.
One crafty entrepreneur even took this one step further and covered his van in sleigh bells. The jingling sounds worked so well that he added them to the rest of his 12-strong fleet of vans.
For fans of psychology, you may think there’s something very Pavlovian about this…
3. The most popular ice-cream van song, Greensleeves, is a nod to Henry VIII
The most successful UK ice-cream van brand is Mr Whippy, which took inspiration from the success of Mister Softee in the US. Its founder, Dominic Facchino, was a big fan of Henry VIII who is (wrongly) credited with composing Greensleeves for Anne Boleyn.
Mr Facchino loved it so much, he made sure Greensleeves was played from all of the vans in his fleet, and the tune quickly became associated with the British summertime.
4. Up until 2013 there were strict regulations on ice-cream vans
Dominic Facchino will no doubt have been disappointed by the ‘Code of Practice on
Noise from Ice-Cream Van Chimes Etc.’ which was introduced in 1982 and limited chimes to 4-second bursts. Hardly the tribute to Henry VIII he wanted.
Fortunately for fans of ice-cream tunes, in 2013 the Government relaxed these regulations, tripling the time to 12 seconds and allowing the tunes to sound every two minutes rather than just three.
5. Quotax can insure your ice-cream van
Quotax offers free advice for anyone looking to insure their vehicle, and ice-cream vans aren’t the only unusual vehicle we can help with: horse-boxes, recovery vans, skip trucks and of course – our most popular service – taxis.
If you’ve got a vehicle you’re looking to insure, why not give us a call today on 020 8691 9691, or drop us an email over on our Contact Page. It won’t cost you anything to get a quote – you might be surprised by just how many things we insure!