When Fred H. Wells opened a milk route in Le Mars, Iowa, in 1913, little did he know the iconic globally renowned landmark his humble enterprise would spawn.
Wells bought a horse, delivery wagon and a few cans and jars for $250 from a local dairy farmer and launched his dairy delivery service. The business grew, and in 1925 Wells and his sons began manufacturing ice cream and marketing it in nearby towns, including Sioux City, 25 miles to the southwest.
Three years later another company purchased Wells’ Sioux City distribution system and the right to use Wells’ name.
In 1935 the Wells family decided to resurrect their ice cream sales efforts in Sioux City again but lacked a company name.
So they held a “name that ice cream” contest in the Sioux City Journal. One resident submitted the winning entry after noticing how much his son enjoyed an Easter display in a department store window.
Thus Blue Bunny — and the “Ice Cream Capital of the World” — were born.
Dominating the Le Mars skyline, Blue Bunny’s 900,000-square-foot ice cream plant boasts a 12-story refrigeration tower. The block-long unit can chill more than 50,000 pallets of ice cream at 20 degrees below zero.
Le Mars’ largest employer, the company staffs more than 1,000 workers and produces 150 million gallons of frozen goodies every year, including dozens of flavors of ice cream, tri-colored Bomb Pops, ice cream sandwiches and other novelties.
According to the “Hacks ‘n Facts” page on www.bluebunny.com, the company annually uses:
- 8 million pounds of chocolate coating
- 865,000 pounds of strawberries
- 396,000 pounds of pecans
- 150 million chocolate bunnies for its Bunny Tracks ice cream
- 130 million sticks for handheld treats
The manufacturing facility has been hailed as the largest single-location producer of ice cream novelties in the world. The company is also thought to be the world’s largest family-owned and managed dairy processor.
The town of just under 10,000 was designated “Ice Cream Capital of the World” in 1994 by the state’s general assembly — and Le Mars will not let anyone forget it.
The Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and Museum features an old-fashioned parlor with an antique soda fountain and souvenir shop. The museum on the second floor details the history of the ice cream industry in Le Mars.
The parlor and museum, located at 115 Central Ave. NW, is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. Hours are somewhat seasonal, so call (712) 546-4522 to verify the business hours before visiting.
More than 50 colorful 6-foot ice cream cone statues dot the city. Murals and alley art harken to the halcyon days of romantic strolls, unspoiled greenery, carefree living — and, of course, the simple pleasure of enjoying ice cream.
The annual four-day Ice Cream Days festival includes 10,000 free servings of ice cream to the thousands of revelers who descend on the town every June.
Festival activities include a parade; outdoor movie; classic automobile cruise-in; historical and preservation tours; rubber cow races; arts exhibits; grill and barbecue competitions; toy show and auctions; live entertainment; fishing derby; and a downtown scavenger hunt.
The 2017 festival is slated for Wednesday, June 14, through Saturday, June 17. For information, visit www.lemarsiowa.com.
The whole town gets into the act, according to Brad Pick, a member of the Ice Cream Days organizing committee and president of the local chamber of commerce.
“There are so many groups of people that are sponsoring events, putting them together and organizing activities,” he said. “The entire community goes out to make it a great event.”
He also noted the festival is designed to highlight the town’s attractions other than ice cream.
“Ice Cream Days is a festival when we celebrate ice cream but also our community and what we offer here,” he said.
Those attractions include a host of restaurants, taverns, bakeries and drive-ins; convention center and banquet hall; barn quilts and public art; playhouses and movie theaters; a 27-hole golf course; more than a dozen parks featuring ball diamonds, disc golf courses and swimming pools; miles of hiking and biking trails; and the Plymouth County Fair.
Not content to rest on its laurels, Le Mars this year adopted a 139-page comprehensive plan detailing implementation of its vision statement:
“Le Mars, the Ice Cream Capital of the World, is a thriving community of choice with opportunity for everyone. It is a community that:
- embraces growth and development to increase opportunity for present and future residents
- is a place of choice for people of all ages and backgrounds and a destination for visitors
- promotes a high quality of life with excellent educational, recreational, and health services
- supports its downtown as the economic and social hub of the community
- maintains Midwest values by being welcoming to all people, progressive, hardworking and family-friendly
- encourages sustainability
For these reasons and more, Le Mars’ vision for the future is to grow as a place where life is sweet.”