The Wall Drug Store in South Dakota has become one of the most well-known roadside attractions over the years. Did you know that this beloved family-owned tourist attraction along I-90 became what we know and love today because of free ice water?
Back in December of 1931, Ted and Dorothy Hustead purchased the only drug store outside of the badlands of South Dakota. Roughly 300 people lived in the area and business was far from good since they were in the middle of the Great Depression and a drought. Their families had been skeptical about their move to the small town of Wall but the couple vowed to dedicate five years to their store before deciding to move. Ted helped families in need with medicine and even taught himself some veterinary skills to help neighbors with their cattle.
But in the summer of 1936, their five years were nearly up and business hadn't improved. On one particularly hot day, as Dorothy was settling their two children down for a nap, she noticed that the highway was full of cars and had an idea. What if they put up signs along the road advertising free ice water for the hot and weary travelers? She even made up a little poem that inspired the signs that Ted made. The poem continues to line the highway today:
"Get a soda . . . Get a root beer . . . turn next corner . . . Just as near . . . To Highway 16 & 14. . . Free Ice Water. . . Wall Drug."
The customers poured in for free water and to ask for directions along the highway. But they also started buying other things. Ted Hustead didn't have any business problems after putting up those signs. Even after business was booming, Ted and Dorothy remained dedicated to their community over the years. When the United States Air Force operated the Minuteman missile silos outside of town, they would provide free coffee and donuts to the servicemen traveling out to work. To this day they continue to offer free coffee and donuts to members of the armed forces.
These days, Wall Drug has way more to offer its visitors than just free ice water. (Although that is still available.) Travelers on a road trip through the Black Hills can stop by for fun photo ops with a giant jackalope or brontosaurus, snag some kitschy bumper stickers from the gift shop, grab ice cream or a 5 cent coffee at the soda fountain, and even enjoy a famous buffalo burger at the Western Art Gallery Restaurant.
The backyard is the perfect place to let your kids blow off some steam on your trip. You can play in water jets at the Train Station Water Show or enjoy photo ops with a giant T-Rex and a mini Mount Rushmore. There's even the Wall Drug Mining Company where you can pan for gold while mom and dad enjoy all of the shopping that the tourist attraction has to offer. Regardless of where you're going on your journey, make sure to include a stop at the stunning Badlands National Park. You won't regret seeing some of the most breathtaking views in all of western South Dakota.