Blogs > Cliopatria > The Americans Did Not Invent the Ice Cream Cone

Jul 23, 2004 12:47 pm

The Americans Did Not Invent the Ice Cream Cone

Richard Morrison, in the Times (London) (July 19, 2004):

...Exactly 100 years ago, the American city of St Louis hosted the biggest exhibition of new technology the world had yet seen. An incredible 20 million people visited the 1904 World Fair, and the newfangled gadgets at which they gawped would revolutionise their lives and the century that followed. They included a prototype telephone answering-machine, and what we would now call a fax machine -though in 1904 it rejoiced in the splendid moniker of "telautograph" (wonder why the name never stuck?). Electric typewriters, electric clocks and dishwashers were also demonstrated for the first time. So were X-ray machines and baby incubators. And, rather more ominously, models of an amazing battleship that operated underwater - the first military submarine.

All fascinating. But 100 years on, it isn't what those 20 million visitors saw that is causing such a stir. It's what they ate. For according to the American view of history the 1904 World Fair also included the public debut of three culinary delectations that have since revolutionised noshing habits worldwide.

They are the hamburger, the hot dog...and the ice-cream cone, which a feisty editorial in the Chicago Tribune last week pronounced to be a "quintessentially American" invention. Indeed, the Americans have declared July to be "National Ice-Cream Month" to mark the cone's centenary.

Hmm. I don't intend to leap into the thorny debate about whether the hamburger and hot dog are true American inventions, or mere Yankee doodles on the sausage rolls that Germans have scoffed since the days of Attila the Hun (though I can't help noticing that the American who allegedly invented the hot dog in St Louis was called Anton Ludwig Feuchtwanger).

But when it comes to the ice-cream cone, someone must speak out! Even American historians admit that the story about it being invented at the 1904 World Fair is pure piffle. Or, more to the point, pure waffle. According to the legend, the weather one day was so hot, and the consequent clamour for ice-cream so tumultuous, that vendors ran out of dishes in which to serve the white stuff. So an enterprising young vendor dashed to the neighbouring pastry stall -run by a Syrian called either Hamwi, Doumar or Kabbaz, depending on which version of the story you swallow -seized a handful of Middle Eastern waffles called zalabias, and twisted them into cone shapes in which he deposited his dollops of ice cream.

The trouble is that a New York street vendor called Marciony had been flogging ice-cream in edible waffle cups for years, and had been granted an American patent for an ice-cream cone in 1903, eight months before the St Louis fair. So if any American deserves the credit, it's him.

But he doesn't. Because Manchester got there first! According to Linda Stradley's I'll Have What They're Having: Legendary Local Cuisine, a British patent for an oven that could bake "biscuit cups for ice-cream" was granted to an Anglo Italian Mancunian called Antonio Valvano in 1902, a full year before Marciony obtained his patent. (Isn't it weird how these great ideas lie dormant for 40 centuries, then seem to occur to several people simultaneously?) What's more, Stradley contends, Manchester's Italian community had probably been eating ice-cream out of edible cones since at least the mid-19th-century....

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