Ice Cream Protocol

This is the last official day of National Ice Cream Month. In 1968, ice cream caused an incident that forced the White House and the Office of the Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco into some very delicate discussions.

In March of 1968, prominent visitors to our beautiful hometown included President Lyndon Johnson’s daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, and her husband, Marine Captain Charles Robb. To see some of our City’s sites, they hopped on a cable car, on the Hyde Street line, headed for Fisherman’s Wharf. Suddenly, the conductor, Mr. Machell Bell, ordered them off the car at Lombard Street.

Before boarding, Mrs. Robb had purchased a double scoop, butterscotch, ice cream cone from Swensen’s at Union and Hyde Streets. When challenged by Conductor Bell, she refused to throw away the cone and chose to get off the car instead. Later, Conductor Bell admitted that he did not know who his special passengers were.

Swensen’s original store opened in 1948 at Union and Hyde Streets, and the location is still serving ice cream daily. And now, there are franchises all over the world. Here is a short commercial aimed at Swensen’s customers in Asia, including Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. And no, I cannot explain what the squirrel is doing there:

Here is Swensen’s history:

Opinions about “ice-cream-gate” followed the incident. An editorial ran in the Chronicle on March 25, 1968 that upheld our City’s standards by saying, “Though not proscribed by ordinance, the consumption of ice cream cones aboard crowded public conveyances is hardly de rigueur in San Francisco…” The incident was finally put to rest with two separate remedies. First, Mayor Joe Alioto sent Mrs. Robb a certificate declaring her to forever be an, “Honorary Cable Car Conductor of San Francisco.” And Swensen’s staff sent the White House three gallons of ice cream by air freight after receiving the White House preferences – butterscotch and banana.

For all of you City natives who are missing our wonderful home, here is a five minute virtual ride on a couple of cable cars. From the scenery, you will know which line and where the cars are. And for those of you who have not experienced this mode of transportation, yes, the cars really do come that close to each other. And yes, you need to keep all of your body parts close to you unless you want to polish the sides of trucks along the way.

Happy summer!