The Iceman Cometh

When it comes to business and commerce, my great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States in the early years of the 20th century spent their lives working for others whether it was in textile mills, bakeries, or other factories. Some of their American-born children, however, had that good old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit. One of my maternal grandmother’s brothers owned a butcher shop for many years on E. Norris Street in Philadelphia. I don’t have any photos of the shop, or of my grand-uncle Casimir Zawodny for that matter. But I do have a great photo of two of my paternal grandmother’s brothers who used their ingenuity to become businessmen at a young age. May I introduce you to Max Bergmeister, proprietor of the Lawrence Ice Company, 920 N. Lawrence Street in Philadelphia, PA:

Julius and Max Bergmeister, the Lawrence Ice Company, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1925

Max (born 1905) is the young man leaning on the rear of the truck. His younger brother Julius (born 1908) stands at the front. I’m far from a Photo Detective and did not do much research into the time period of the photo, but based on the style of the truck and the apparent youth of the brothers I would date it to 1925-1928. The scan of the photo is not of the highest quality, but there are a number of great details in the photo if you zoom in. For example, the building directly behind the front of the truck appears to be a telegraph or telephone station (note the sign with the bell in the upper left). The store is a stationery story that sells notions – this is just visible through the windshield of the truck. The confectionary store (behind rear of truck) serves Reid’s ice cream (“It’s the Best”). Just behind Max’s head you can see signs for the Ringling Brothers Circus that was coming to town on May 16. The most interesting thing I found while zooming in on the photo is the profile of a man or woman in the window on the second story to the left of the ice cream sign.

Max started out in the ice business, but by the 1930’s he owned what was called a “soda fountain” in those days. My dad was the envy of the neighborhood because his uncle had a candy and ice cream store! He owned the business for many years. His brother Julius worked as a driver, but at some point he became a Philadelphia fireman and had a long career with Engine Co. 51 in the same neighborhood. Another driver used to deliver ice cream to Max’s store – a young man named James Pointkouski (see a 1937 photo of James and his ice cream delivery truck here). One day James noticed the girl behind the counter. Excited, he asked Max, “Who is that?” Max responded with an indifferent shrug, “Oh, that’s just my sister.” I guess I should be grateful to Max for being a businessman, because at that moment his friend and deliveryman James met his future wife, Margaret. It would take many more years before they would become known as my grandparents.

[Written for the 120th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Business and Commerce]


7 thoughts on “The Iceman Cometh

  1. Donna, the Bell is the old symbol for the Bell Telephone System and would have indicated a public phone. I worked for Western Electric for 3 years and have many items with the bell on it.

  2. Pingback: :: C R E A T I V E G E N E ::: Carnival of Genealogy, 120th Edition | All About Small Business

  3. Enjoyed how you pointed out the tidbits in the background of this great photo. I came back just to enlarge it and have a better look, well worth the come back! It’s a great photo, enjoyed this post a lot.

  4. Interesting history. I was looking at the photo in its enlarged version and enjoyed the detail. I noticed the license plate but couldn’t read it. I wonder if you’d be able to play with the photo enough to make the plate readable, in which case you could tell what year it was.

  5. Donna, Thoroughly enjoyed your story. The details were great, and I had a real connection with those brothers — darlings, they were in the pic. And a wonderfully poignant ending. Well done and o, so fun. Also love the pic, especially in full screen mode — they must have had two trucks, cuz that one is No. 2. Thanks for a good read.

  6. What a great picture and such fun memories. I can imagine a kid with a candy shop would be very popular! you might be able to get a good idea of the date of the picture by checking old city directories to see when the various shops in the background were in business.

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