Thursday, September 16, 2010

Monday, March 2, 2009

Polly Potter Kirtland

The couple was married in 1793, and Polly’s blue silk damask wedding gown – the height of late 18th century fashion – remains on display as a gift for posterity at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society in Youngstown, Ohio. There is a rumor that Polly was in love with a sea captain of whom her parents disapproved and whose letters to her they intercepted. The story has little credibility given Jared Potter’s liberalism and the parental readiness to grant daughters greater freedom in the selection of a husband that prevailed in post-revolutionary America. Did Polly, then, love Turhand?

It is difficult for today’s women to comprehend the mindset of their compeers in the 18th century, but most young women of that era viewed marriage in the same way modern women view a profession or career. Women were barred from access to higher education and apprenticeship training in most crafts, their only choice being the narrow one between marriage and spinsterhood. Thus a good marriage was an accomplishment, inasmuch as it conferred upon them all of the practical necessities of life that we now associate with a good job: financial support and security in old age; as well as the more obvious ones: love, companionship, children.

For the first ten years of their marriage, Turhand journeyed back and forth between the new frontier of Ohio and Wallingford, spending his summers in what would become Poland, Ohio, constructing the dwelling he and his family were to inhabit. The leading member of the profession of civil engineering in the early days in eastern Ohio, Turhand laid out townships, towns and roads and – along with John Young – surveyed the original village of Youngstown. He journeyed back to Wallingford to spend the winter months with Polly and his growing family: Jared, born 1793; Henry, born 1795; Mary Beach, born 1798; and Nancy, born 1801.

By 1803 the family home was ready. Poland was, by frontier standards a habitable community, and so Turhand brought his family to Ohio and located them in what is now Poland village. They journeyed in two covered wagons across the country and over the Pennsylvania mountains – a journey of one month. The whole party consisted of Turhand, Polly, and three children: Henry, Mary and Nancy, a hired man, and two hired girls. (Jared, the eldest son, and been left behind in Wallingford to be educated by his grandfather.)

So we have Polly, a cultivated, informally educated young woman of 31, already the mother of four, leaving the comfort and refinement of her home in New England, her parents and firstborn child, forced to make her home in the harsh though beautiful land known as the Connecticut Western Reserve. This relocation, we are told, was so great a sorrow to her she declared that if she had to leave her eastern home she “would never return for even a visit,” – a promise she faithfully kept.

But in marriage the authority of the husband to choose the family domicile was unquestioned and it is unlikely Polly endured a life of permanent frustration after her initial outburst. Human beings are, above all, creatures of adaptation and she undoubtedly found many consolations in her new home which were rich and satisfying. Her curiosity and appreciation for the natural world, learned from her father, would stand her in good stead in the Ohio wilderness.

As a former New England gentlewoman she would have refined the skills all housewives shared. To plain sewing and cooking she would add a concern for grace and style. Her gentility determined that she would have wine and silver on her table and that she would update and remodel her clothing to conform to the latest fashions.

As Poland grew and thrived, Turhand became a judge and magistrate. But what of Polly? It is tempting to imagine her as a sort of medic for the community, given the medical knowledge she had probably acquired from her father. If this is the case there is no record of it. Instead we are told that Mrs. Kirtland was “quite a lady, one who wore rich silks and entertained each Sabbath with a turkey or chicken pie dinner.” She was also known for her potent Cherry Bounce, using fresh cloves, cinnamon and bourbon.

1810 was an emotionally turbulent year for the Kirtlands. Polly was reunited with her son Jared, whom she had last seen in 1803 at the age of 10. Jared, a young man of 17 journeyed to his parents’ home in Poland because of an illness of his father, Turhand. Turhand’s illness turned out to be quite minor, but – ironically and tragically – it was during this time that his grandfather, Polly’s father, Jared Potter, died as the result of a bizarre accident. Passing through a field of rye he threw some of the kernels into his mouth and one of them lodged in his pharynx. He died of the resulting infection some days later.

Jared stayed in Poland for a year, filling the vacancy caused by the death of the local schoolmaster. He was very interested in the flora and fauna of the area, and of course was reunited with his parents. Of Polly and Turhand Kirtland’s six children, all but one grew to adulthood, married and produced children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for the couple.

The first son, Jared Potter Kirtland, became a famous man, a physician like his grandfather, and is still recognized as one of the greatest forces in education and natural sciences in the Western Reserve. Kirtland’s Warbler and Kirtland’s Water Snake are both named in his honor. Surely the influence of his mother, Polly Potter Kirtland, during his early and formative years contributed to the development of his questioning mind? (A friend of his said of him that he was the happiest man he ever knew, the reason being his great interest in people and things.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Harry Burt and "Good Humor" Bars

The Story Continues...

Burt came to Youngstown in 1893 when he was eighteen. He opened a penny candy store on South Hazel Street in a tiny, wood frame building, two long blocks from Market Street and one block south of Federal Street, the two main streets of the city. A Youngstown Vindicator editorial eulogizing Burt recalled that this first candy store had no floor covering, faded paper on the walls, almost no furnishings, but “it was so clean—an exception for a confectionery in those days—and everything he sold was so delicious.” Burt’s business grew enough that he could afford to move one block east, in 1895, closer to the center of commerce, where he occupied a corner store facing both Phelps and West Boardman Streets. Here his best customers where the children who attended Front Street Elementary School, one block to the south. At this time, his confectionery still produced mainly penny candies. In 1897, the business moved two blocks north to 27 North Phelps Street where the confectionery occupied a new building facing the street. The candy workroom was in the old wood-frame post office building that had been moved back from the street to accommodate the new candy sales room. This confectionery was the first to produce “old fashioned chocolate cream drops”. In 1898, the business added a “soda fountain”, the first such restaurant in Youngstown. In March of 1902, Burt moved his confectionery one door north, to 29 North Phelps, were its new restaurant was called the “Arbor Garden at Burt’s”, a name that continued in each new Burt confectionery. In 1906, the restaurant was remodeled with “a Mexican onyx soda fountain with German silver trim,” noted in an August Youngstown Vindicator article.

In 1920 or 1921, Burt developed a smooth chocolate coating that was compatible with ice cream. His children helping, he experimented with coating a cut portion of ice cream with the new chocolate. His daughter Ruth said the ice cream bar was “messy.” The solution, suggested by son Harry, was to add a wooden stick, as if the product was a lollypop candy. Burt called the new ice cream product “a new clean convenient way to eat ice cream.” The name for the new chocolate-coated ice cream bar, “Good Humor”, alluded to the nineteenth century belief that a person’s humor or temperament was related to a person’s sense of taste, or the “humor” of the palate (

About the same time as the invention of the “Good Humor” ice cream bar, Burt wanted to again expand his downtown business. The large demand for Burt’s high quality goods called for a bigger manufacturing site for his ice cream products, candies and bakery goods. In October 1921, Harry Burt acquired a building at the west end of the city’s commercial area, 325-327 West Federal Street from the James family real estate holdings for $200,000 (Vindicator, 10.20.21). Within a week, The Vindicator reported that Burt had contracted with Heller Brothers Company, Youngstown’s largest commercial construction firm. They already had begun renovating the entire building, replacing the front and rear facades, reinforcing the foundation, altering the first and second floors. Burt invested $50,000 in the renovation (Vindicator 10.27.21)

Before opening the new three-story store and factory, on January 30, 1922, Harry Burt applied for a patent for the machinery to produce the “Good Humor” sucker and for the production process. He received the patent October 9, 1923 (MVHS archives, patent documents).

When the Burt’s West Federal Street store opened on April 3,1922, The Vindicator dedicated two front-page photos and most of an inside page to “A great addition to W. Federal Street’s new shopping district” (Vindicator, 4.3.22).

Burt purchased twelve refrigerator trucks for neighborhood distribution of his new ice cream bars (photo 16). A Burt family bobsled bell called children to the Good Humor delivery trucks where customers could buy Good Humor bars from the truck driver who wore a white uniform. Descriptions often mention the Good Humor Truck drivers as “chauffeurs.”

Between 1922 and 1926, the availability and popularity of the Good Humor ice cream bar grew through production at the factory in the new building and through the fleet of refrigerator trucks. Burt utilized two of the flavors of ice cream in the “Good Humor suckers” that he sold in his ice cream parlor, vanilla and chocolate. All Burt ice cream, including Good Humor bars, had a high cream content, 25% butter fat (souvenir booklet). Later newspaper descriptions specifically note that the chocolate coating contained no wax (Vindicator, 4.27.28). According to Jefferson Moak, “At a time when standardization was unknown, Burt wanted a standardized product with the same ingredients” that would retain the same favor in every sales market. Burt’s marketing plan was to license manufacturers for all new markets (Moak). To protect the quality, Burt filed lawsuits with his chief competitors, the producers of popsicles. Much of Moak’s details of the business history of frozen suckers came from testimony for these lawsuits.

After Harry Burt died in 1926, his wife Cora took the company public, selling franchises for $100 ( In 1928, Cora sold the business and patents to Good Humor Corporation of America. The new owner planned to advertise widely and nationally market the “Good Humor Sucker” (Vindicator, 4.27.28).

At that time, Cora Burt reserved the rights to manufacture and market the product in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. However, the following year, the West Federal Street ice cream production and restaurants closed. Ruth Burt’s husband Paul Bolton purchased the candy making equipment and recipes and ownership of the 29 North Phelps Street store where he planned to continue production with a nation distribution (Vindicator, 2.7.29).

In 1930, a New York businessman and investor by the name of M.J. Meehan acquired the national rights to the company by buying 75 percent of the shares. The Meehan family owned the company until 1961 when it was sold to Unilever’s U.S. subsidiary, the Thomas J. Lipton Company.
Unilever’s Lipton Foods unit continued to manufacture and market Good Humor® products for the next 12 years.
In 1976, when the company's direct-selling business was disbanded in favor of grocery stores and free-standing freezer cabinets, the trucks were parked for the last time. Some of the trucks were purchased by ice cream distributors while others were sold to private individuals.
In 1989, Unilever purchased Gold Bond Ice Cream, located in Green Bay, Wis., and grouped its U.S. ice cream and frozen novelty businesses under the name Gold Bond-Good Humor Ice Cream. With its acquisition of Breyers® Ice Cream in 1993, the company name was changed to Good Humor-Breyers® Ice Cream.