Yesterday’s post was all about a road trip that I took in 1964. One of the items I mentioned was a stop at the Ice Water Store in South Dakota.

After I wrote the article I was curious as to whether the store was still there, so I looked it up on the internet. And there was the history of the store and now what it has become today.

It is such an amazing story, I thought I would write about it for you Dear Readers.

In 1931, right after the great depression, a young pharmacist and his wife were living in South Dakota. He worked for other druggists and he and his wife decided they wanted to open their own drugstore.


His father had died and left him $3000 and in a town called Wall, South Dakota they found a drugstore for sale. They chose this town because it had a Catholic church and they liked to go to mass every day.

Wall was a town with 326 people, all broke. Mostly down and out farmers who were suffering from the depression and the drought. There was a highway that went past the town, but nobody stopped. This was in the middle of nowhere.

The young couple had a little boy and they put a blanket across the back of the store and they lived in this one little room. Business was almost non existent. They decided to ‘give it five years’ and then if it was still a failure, they would pack up and do something else.

Their fifth year was to be up in December and now it was summer. Hot and dusty and still no customers. Then the wife Dorothy got an idea. “Let’s put up signs on the highway and offer Free Ice Water to these hot and dusty travelers. Maybe when they come in, they will buy a soda pop or an ice cream cone.”

Well it worked. Pretty soon they were giving out cups of ice water and filling up jugs. Business started to boom. Over the years the store got larger and larger.

By 1981, Wall Drug was a complete shopping mall, but every store was really Wall Drug. There was a Cafe, a Chapel for Travelers, a full on pharmacy, an ATM, homemade ice cream and of course Free Ice Water.

During the summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the owners claimed to be giving away 20,000 cups of ice water every day.

Coffee was five cents. And now the three sons were the owners and they were running the store. Now they give away free bumper stickers and spend over half a million dollars a year on billboard signs directing people to their store.

I was there in 1964 during the month of June and even then it was very very busy. We stopped not only for the Free Ice Water, but also for soda and candy and ice cream and maps. By 1981 they were raking in $10 million a year.

There are billboards several states away and people all over the world have signs posted that tell just how many miles it is to Wall Drug. There is even a sign at the South Pole that says 9300 miles to Wall Drug.