John Sennitt was an English-born engineer who, in 1899, acquired his employers’ firm Victorian Cold Accumulator Proprietary Company Ltd. The firm began to manufacture Sennitt’s Ice Cream around 1904. In the early 1930s John’s son, William, introduced the popular polar bear trademark.
The Victorian Cold Accumulator company was formed in 1892 to manufacture and market an invention by one Edward Taylor. The cold accumulator seems to have been something like a giant freezer brick, which could keep cold storage rooms at low temperatures without the dampness of ice. The technology was used on ships and in rail cars for transporting perishable goods including meat and butter. The company also made ice for sale to the public.
Sennitt renamed the company Sennitt’s Ice Works and proclaimed to the public that his ice was made from distilled water, “thus effectively killing bacteria”. As well as the cold accumulators, Sennitt’s manufactured ice chests and cool chambers.
By 1904 the company was making ice cream. In the early days, advertisements offered “the popular M.I.M. Ice Cream”.The initials stood for Melbourne Ice (Cream) Manufactory and Sennitt assured his customers that the product was made by the latest American process. It’s not clear when the M.I.M. brand was abandoned (it was still being advertised as late as 1908) but at Melbourne’s Exhibition of Local Manufactures in 1905 The Argus reported that “All over the building are stalls for the sale of Sennitt’s ice cream, which cannot be surpassed for delicacy of flavour”.
In 1914, Punch wrote feelingly about the democratising effect of Sennitt’s Ice Cream during a Melbourne heatwave. By 1929 the product range included Polar Pies (perhaps a copy of the popular Eskimo Pie) and Dixies.
John Sennitt’s son William had entered the business in 1898 and J.P. Sennitt and Sons continued as a private company until 1961. The famous polar bear logo appeared on signs all over Victoria, in press advertisements and even on showbags.
Sennitt’s Ice Cream was also sold and advertised in cinemas, with a particularly hilarious 1956 commercial featuring Graham Kennedy & Cliff “Nicky” Whitta. One of Melbourne’s best known moving neon signs, on the roof of the South Melbourne factory, showed a bear licking an ice-cream cone.
The range in the mid-1950s included family bricks, cones, wafers (a small block of paper-wrapped vanilla ice cream with two wafer biscuits supplied separately), the Dixie and the Choc Pie (Sennitt’s version of the Choc Wedge). The company also made ice cream cakes and novelties. At some point, there was also a sixpenny icy pole called a Rifleman. During the 1950s Sennitt’s branched out into frozen fruit and vegetables, with a range including peas, beans, cauliflower, sprouts and berries.
After Unilever acquired the company in 1961, the Sennitt’s brand was retired in favour of the NSW brand Streets. The bear disappeared.