A deteriorated set of brick walls held together by steel beams is about all that is left of the Hendler Creamery on East Baltimore Street at Aisquith. A developer once promised to make the site into a housing complex, but little has moved forward in the last few years.
The building has a rich and varied history. It was constructed by the Baltimore City Passenger Railway and housed an industrial steam engine made by Reynolds-Corliss. The big engine generated the power to operate a cable car system and carried Baltimore riders to Patterson Park and along Gay Street, among other destinations. When the in-ground cable operation became supplanted by another technology — overhead electric wires — the property was sold off.
It wound up being the powerhouse of another nature. It was the East Baltimore headquarters of Baltimore’s largest and most popular ice cream maker. The Hendler Creamery bought the old streetcar powerhouse in 1912 and made its famous cream there through the 1960s. The company promoted itself as “the country’s first fully automated ice cream factory.” Hendler’s was not a small operation. Old photos show a huge Domino Sugar tank truck delivering sweeteners to the plant.
Hendler truckers delivered cylinder drums full of ice cream to more than 400 soda fountains and restaurants around Maryland. Clerks in neighborhood shops dipped cones and made sundaes and milk shakes for the solid customer base that enjoyed a dip or two a couple of times a week..
Hendler’s ice cream was recalled for a deep rich vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. The summer brought peach ice cream and the Christmas holidays, an egg nog flavor.
Rachel Kassman, writing in a 2011 Jewish Museum of Maryland publication, said, “the company also made specialty flavors for particular customers, like ginger and peppermint for Hutzler’s department store and tomato sherbet for the Southern Hotel. But perhaps the best remembered specialty flavor was Hendler’s Egg-Nog ice cream. Hendler’s was the only ice cream company in the United States to have a liquor license (for blending liquor into ice cream) so that the Egg-Nog ice cream could be flavored with pure rum.”
The tomato flavor was not made with cream. It was a sorbet, flavored with Maryland tomatoes and served between courses at the Southern, the hotel that once stood at Light and Redwood streets.
The Hendler brand gained dominance and was helped along by a strong advertising campaign. Its customers recognized it by a chubby, smiling baby nourished on platefuls of ice cream. The artwork for the baby, known as a Kewpie, was the work of New York artist Rose O’Neill who lived from 1874 to 1944. Hendler’s secured the rights to use her image in its advertising.
The Hendler Kewpie was once as recognizable as the characters of Mr. Boh, Mrs. Ihries potato chips, the Wise owl (Wise potato chips) and the Koester’s bread twins.
The company also used the slogan "The Velvet Kind” on exterior enamel signs painted in vivid blue and yellow.
Hendler’s was locally owned until 1929, when its controlling interest was purchased by Borden’s. The Hendler family remained in charge here until the 1960s.
Hendler’s did not have the ice cream field to itself. The Arundel chain of ice cream parlors served numerous Baltimore neighborhoods. There were also Eckels, Delvale and High’s shops too. Baltimore also had some one-off ice cream makers, like small batch makers Horn & Horn in downtown Baltimore, Fiske in Bolton Hill, Doebereiner and Glaser, each on North Avenue, Schwaab’s on Greenmount Avenue in Waverly and Temple’s in Hamilton and Price’s on Liberty Road.
It was also associated with the soda fountains of local drugs stores. The old Guilford Pharmacy, at Guilford Avenue and 28th Street, did a flourishing Hendler business, with a single dip going for seven cents in 1960.