Monday, May 26, 2014

Dear friends and farmers,

Growing up in Glenview, one of my fondest memories was visiting the Dairy Bar with my grandpa during the summer.  He had to be the first to take me upon the opening of each season.  I always got the same thing, vanilla and chocolate cone with sprinkles.  We always sat on the same wooden curb along the railroad tracks.  And I always managed to spill ice cream on my clothes by the end of our visit.

As I got older, I learned that my grandpa used to be a soda jerk at Renneckers pharmacy, once located in downtown Glenview.  At the time I had no idea what a soda jerk did, but I was constantly amused by the name.  Over time I did learn about this popular teenage job and it suddenly made sense why taking me to the Dairy Bar each summer meant so much to my grandpa. 

The Dairy Bar is still around, but Renneckers has long since closed its doors.  However, Historic Wagner Farm has worked to bring back the ambiance and history of these past ice cream parlors with our very own Sweets and Treats.  As we enter our 7th season of serving ice cream, here is a brief history of soda fountains for you to enjoy.

Soda fountains gained popularity in the late 1800’s.  Many started in drug stores because of the access to carbonated water.  Making carbonated water requires a specific chemical process, and luckily pharmacists are also chemists.  They began giving clients soda water as a chaser for medicine, but soon the soda water became so popular that clients would just order the water by itself. 

Soda fountains became especially popular during prohibition.  Breweries switched over to selling ice cream and sodas because they had access to refrigeration and the means to advertise profusely. A good example of this is Stroh’s brewery from Detroit, Michigan which switched to producing ice cream during the early 20th century, and still produces it in the present day.

Soda fountain employees were nicknamed “soda jerks.”  The name came from the slick way they pulled or jerked the soda fountain lever forward to make the carbonated water spray into the glass. However, soda jerks were not to enthusiastic about the name they were given and tried to change their nicknames to fizzicians or fountainers, but neither name ever stuck as well as soda jerks.  Soda jerks also came up with a particular “diner lingo” or nicknames for certain kinds of orders.   For example, if you were to order a chocolate shake with chocolate ice cream, the jerk would yell out “shake one all the way.”  The language is all but forgotten for most of us, but there is an organization called National Association of Soda Jerks, a group "dedicated to the preservation of American nostalgia" and the heritage of the soda fountain in particular.

The city of Evanston, Illinois has a particularly close tie with soda fountain history.  During the late nineteenth century, city officials passed an ordinance forbidding the sale of ice cream sodas on Sunday to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath.  In response to this, soda jerks concocted a “soda less” soda comprised of ice cream with syrup, but no soda, and named it a Sunday.  The name later changed to sundae and so developed one of America’s most characteristic dishes.

We invite you all to visit our Wagner Farm Sweets and Treats Parlor, and our very own group of soda jerks.  Have a great summer!

Until next time,