September 1, 2007 by J. Johnson
By Laurel Tope, Mansfield Public Library
Summer is drawing to a close, but it’s hard to lose enthusiasm for that staple of summer evenings, ice cream. What does ice cream have to do with the Subject and Special Collections Division? Why, ice cream archives, of course!
Mansfield is home to the Isaly’s ice cream business, which began in 1902 when William Isaly, with some friends, purchased the Loiselle Milk Plant and changed the name to
Mansfield Pure Milk Company.
William was third generation Swiss, as his grandfather Christian Iseli, had moved from Switzerland to Switzerland Township, Monroe County, Ohio in the fall of 1839.
The name Iseli was Americanized to Isaly in the 1880s. William moved to Richland County, Ohio in 1892 and bought a farm. He started his dairy business by selling milk and dairy products, door to door, from his horse-drawn wagon. In 1912, the Isalys began selling cones from their Mansfield store from ice cream stored in cans, placed in wooden tubs of ice. Records show that 7,600 cones were made in their first summer.
The business prospered and 11 major plants were to follow in Marion, Youngstown and Columbus, Ohio and in 1930 the largest plant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania . As the business spread, family members would run the plants, dairies, ice cream stores and later, the delis, known for the chipped ham sandwich.
In 1921, William Isaly would become one of the first Ohio dairymen to have a certified dairy farm, near Mansfield, that produced safe, tuberculosis-free, nonpasteurized milk. This safe milk was a major formula for babies.
One of William’s sons, Samuel D. Isaly, created the Klondike bar in 1921. By 1922 it came in six flavors, including maple and grape.
Another specialty of Isaly’s was their skyscraper cone. A special scoop, which resembled an art deco skyscraper, was designed and patented in 1935. This scoop was taller than the cone itself although the amount of ice cream weighed the same as a big, rounded scoop. New employees were trained with the scoop and a can of ice cream. There were precise directions as to the exact number of scoops to get from one can and a certain way to turn the wrist.
The business peaked in the 1950s, when Isalys operated 400 dairy stores, the largest chain in the world. As supermarkets, drive-in restaurants, Dairy Queens and Lawsons appeared, Isaly’s started to decline and by 1967 all that was left was the Pittsburgh plant.
In 1972, the company was sold to an investment group which sold it again in 1977 to Clabir Corporation. The Clabir Corporation expanded on the Klondike Bar and sold it to
Unilever which owns Lipton and the Good Humor Bar. The Isaly’s brand name, which includes the meats and cheeses, was sold to Delicatessen Distributors in 2002.
Today, a few Isaly’s stores still exist in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia . Even though the business declined, it left its Isaly descendants very well off. Isaly’s: an American dream come true!
So, what about the archives? Where are they, and what is in them? You would think that they would be in Mansfield, the home of the original Isaly founder, the first dairy, the first ice cream shop and the first deli. Mansfield is also the home of the Ohio Genealogical Society, to which Isaly’s descendent, Sam Isaly, has just donated $300,000 for the new OGS Library/Archives. However, there is not much on Isaly’s in OGS or the Mansfield Public Library, where I work.
I discovered two major Isaly’s Archives. One is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, home of the last surviving Isaly’s plant. These archives are housed at what used to be called the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania but is now called the John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center . This rapid growing history center, now the biggest history archives/museum in Pennsylvania is also where author, Brian Butko, works as their
Education Director. Butko is the author of Klondikes, Chipped Ham and Skyscraper Cones: The Story of the Isalys and several books on the Lincoln Highway.
This history center has a large archive of Isaly’s memorabilia including photos, bottles, ice cream scoops, dinnerware, product boxes and records of all kinds, including pay stubs. If you visit there you will always be able to see an Isaly’s exhibit displaying a variety of items and photos.
The second archive is in Youngstown, Ohio at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society (MVHS). The big question is why did Youngstown get the archives and Mansfield did not? I turned to the MVHS director, Bill Lawson for answers.
In 1918, the Isalys bought the Farmers Dairy on the West Side of Youngstown. Chester, William’s eldest son, managed this plant. The Youngstown plant would become the company’s largest plant and in the mid 1930s, the Isalys experienced a large increase in business. They spent $400,000 remodeling the original, old and out-of-date plant. The new plant represented the best architecture of that time and was transformed into a modern, sleek art deco style building made of glass block and white tiles. Today, the building is owned by U-haul and still stands as a ghost of what it used to be, dirty and in need of repair.
Edwin Isaly, son of Chester Isaly’s brother Edwin, grew up in Youngstown and saw the rise and fall of the family business.
When the Youngstown plant closed in 1970 he gathered all the Isaly items that he could find. Included in these items was the famous cast-iron cheese kettle that had been handed down from Christian Isaly who had brought it from Switzerland in 1839. In the heyday of the Isaly business, the cheese kettle was displayed, at one time or another, in all of the stores. Other items were the metal milk and ice cream cans, milk bottles, ice cream scoops, silverware, dinnerware and photos. All these items were stored at Edwin’s home on one of the islands off Lake Erie.
Edwin had been a long-time friend of Bill Lawson and when Edwin decided to move to Texas he asked Bill if MVHS would want all these items, including the famed cheese kettle. Bill accepted the offer and moved 162 items to the MVHS storage buildings in downtown Youngstown . Even though MVHS is a growing organization, at this time, they do not have space to display most of the items. A few items are displayed at the
Arms Museum next door. Photos, newspaper clipping and paper items can be viewed at anytime at the MVHS archives, housed in the Arms Museum carriage house behind the Arms Museum on Wick Avenue.
MVHS also houses some of the Good Humor Bar archives including photos and paper memorabilia from Harry Burt’s confectionary and ice cream parlor.
Harry Burt was born in Cortland, Ohio on August 9, 1875 and moved to Youngstown when he was a boy. He started a candy business in a small room with no covering on the floor and faded wallpaper. He had one counter and one display case. He
sold mostly penny candy and worked long hours. His confectionary was known for its cleanliness, as most were not during that time. He loved what did, his business being his life and his pride. His business grew and the last store that he built, on West Federal Avenue, rivaled stores in New York City . The interior was beautiful and top-of-the-line.
Harry began experimenting with different ways to chocolate-coat ice cream. He used his kids, Harry Jr. and Ruth, as testers. Ruth found it too messy and Harry, having made
suckers as part of his original candy business, came up with the idea of the chocolate-coated ice cream on a stick and called it the Jolly Boy. This ice cream invention was patented in October of 1923.
In the spring of 1921, Harry hand-painted one of his little delivery trucks white and tied on the family bob sled bells to create the first Good Humor truck. He changed the name of the bar to the Good Humor Sucker because he felt that the bar of ice cream put a person in “good humor.”
The business rapidly grew and Harry Jr. carried the business to Florida where it boomed. Then Harry died in 1926 of heart disease and kidney failure. Cora, his wife, started selling franchises for just $100. The business expanded and they
In 1930, M. J. Meehan, a New York investor, bought 75 percent of the shares and owned the rights to the company. In 1961, Meehan sold the company to the Unilever Corporation.
Once again, Harry Burt and his Good Humor Company, made the American Dream come true.
Before I close, I wanted to tell you about the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. MVHS was founded September 10, 1875 and incorporated February 8, 1909. In 1961, the MVHS was given their current property, at 648 Wick Avenue, from the estate of
Olive F. A. Arms. The Arms Family Museum was opened to the public in 1984 and was accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1977. They now own more than 140,000 individual objects. Besides their Isaly’s collection, they have costumes and textiles, 1790 to present, china and silver, farm tools and utensils, business and industry artifacts and the Business and Media Archives of the Mahoning Valley collection.
Their collection includes genealogy books, records, maps and other materials. They are funded by endowment funds, memberships, donations, programs, special events and a gift shop. Their staff includes 8 full-time and 16 part-time employees.
I would like to add a special note of thanks to the very nice folks at MVHS, Bill Lawson, Director; Jessica Trickett, Collection Coordinator; and Pam Speis, Archivist who spent
time answering my questions, showing us the collection and sharing some great photos.
If you are interested in more information please see the following list of resources:
The Iseli family World Wide Web Site – http://www.iseli.org This Web
site offers Iseli/Isaly genealogy.
Isaly Web site – http://www.isalys.com
Klondike Web site – http://www.icecreamusa.com/klondike
John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center
Web site – http://www.pghhistory.org
Library Web site – library.pghhistory.org/
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Brian Butko-phone 412-454-6331
Mahoning Valley Historical Society
Web site – http://www.mahoninghistory.org
648 Wick Avenue
Youngstown, Ohio 44502
Butko, Brian, Klondikes, Chipped Ham and Skyscraper Cones: The Story of the Isaly’s, 2001, published by Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.
Crowl, Thomas E, From Copper Kettle to Klondikes: the Isaly’s Story, published in Timeline Magazine, March/April 2004 by the Ohio Historical Society
Farm and Dairy.Com, Sweet Summer Treats and Fun Facts About Isaly’s and Klondikes, published in the Antique Collector, August 9, 2001, Salem, Ohio. (www.farmanddairy.com)
Hudson, Kay Ballantyne, Samuel D. Isaly: OGS Benefactor and Iseli-Isale-Isalay-Isali-Eisaley-Isaly: From Swiss Dairy Farmer to Family Genealogist, published in the Ohio Genealogy News, Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 2007, Ohio Genealogy Society,
Mapes, Terry, Isaly’s: A New Book that Traces the Story of the Former Mansfield Company that Gave the World Skyscraper Cones and Klondikes, Mansfield News Journal, Mansfield, Ohio, August 18, 2001.
Newspaper clippings on Harry Burt, Mahoning Valley Historical Society, Youngstown, Ohio