A favorite treat of children of the 1950s and ’60s that today’s kids will never get to enjoy is the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake. With a colorful clown face on the special wax-coated paper cups in which it was served, the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was sold at the concession stands at fairs, carnivals and amusement parks. A little more expensive than a regular soft drink, the shakes sold for 25 cents for a regular size cup, 35 cents for a large.
The Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was not a milk shake. It was a whipped non-dairy treat made from pork lard mixed with water to make it more fluid, sugar and sodium cyclamate to make it super-duper sweet, dashes of vanilla and nutmeg for flavoring, unpronounceable chemicals for preservative and more flavoring, and yellowish food coloring so it wouldn’t look so disgusting.
Advertising placards featured the silly-looking clown, and claimed, “It’s so rich, so thick, so dog-gone dee-licious, it will make you say Ho Ho He Ha Ha!” A large plastic clown head, lighted from the inside, revolved around and around on top of the mixing and dispensing machine from behind the counter at the stands where it was sold.When you got one of these things, you could feel the heaviness, like getting a cup of wet cement or something. And it felt like cement when it hit your gut as well. The pork lard would coat your entire mouth and throat and if you tried to wash it down with a cold drink, it would just harden the greasy residue. Hot water was more effective but on a summer day at the fair, who’d want to drink that? I also heard that the mixing and dispensing machines were a real bitch to clean out.
Many kids learned
the hard way going on a ride after consuming a Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake wasn’t such
a good idea. My cousin Cindy, at about eight years old, ended up puking one up
after riding the Tilt-A-Whirl at the amusement park.
The Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was created in 1953 by Frank Bollock, manager of a hog slaughterhouse, who was trying to find new ways to market the surplus lard on hand. After trying a few different experiments with the animal fat, he put some in the new electric blender he had just purchased for his wife, added a cup of water, a cup of sugar, dashes of vanilla and nutmeg and blended it into a nice, creamy drink which he served to his children for desert.
He brought his concoction to an associate at Consolidated Confections Company, which immediately looked at ways to market the stuff. Here the recipe was changed a bit, with chemicals added for preservative, flavor and color, and to mask an unpleasant smell, and the fairly new synthetic sweetener sodium cyclamate was blended along with the sugar to make it even more sweet and tasty, without adding extra calories.
As for the packaging and marketing, it was decided that a clown would be a more appropriate mascot than say, a pig. While they wouldn’t go out of their way to make it a secret that the shakes were made from pork lard, they didn’t really want to draw attention to it either. A clown, on the other hand would be a colorful, fun attention-getting device, and in those days anyway, clowns were among the favorite characters of children.
Silly laughter is associated with silly clowns and so the name Ho Ho He Ha Ha was decided on for this highly sweetened non-dairy shake. Initially the marketers at Consolidated Confections considered calling it the Har Dee Har Har shake, but they feared a potential lawsuit from Jackie Gleason.
By the mid to late 1950s, the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was being sold as a cold treat at carnivals, fairs, amusement parks and summertime events all over the country. It was a natural for circuses, with the clown theme. By the early 1960s, several new discount department stores began selling Ho Ho He Ha Ha shakes at their in-store snack bars, making it the exclusive retail store outlet for the treats.
The first major blow to the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake came in 1969 when the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of cyclamate due to an alleged, though not proven cancer-causing risk. The shakes didn’t quite taste the same with just sugar, nor did they when saccharin, then not yet federally regulated, was blended in.
Meanwhile, consumer advocates began targeting the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake as being especially unhealthy for children with all the fat, cholesterol, sugar, artificial sweeteners and chemicals. Articles condemning the shakes appeared in medical journals and in women’s magazines, and a campaign was underway to ban them.
Bowing to the public pressure, Consolidated Confections Company announced in 1973 that they would withdraw and discontinue the sale and marketing of the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake by 1975. The mixing and dispensing machines with the lighted revolving clown head quickly disappeared from concession stands, as did the clown-face paper cups, virtually unchanged in design since the 1950s.
Pork lard shakes are no longer available anywhere and there is little public demand for them. However, the Ho Ho He Ha Ha clown still brings tinges of nostalgia to many baby boomers, and occasionally the old paper cups turn up on eBay, usually drawing in several bids, as well as the advertising placards. Much more rare are the plastic clown heads, as most of them were destroyed by the company when the machines were withdrawn, but a few have turned up, often going for well over a thousand dollars.