Ice Cream Cones appeared sometime after ice was wed to cream. Exactly when ice cream cones first appeared and who created them depends on whose account you believe. Like so many stories, facts are slippery even when they sound true.
Historians consult primary sources to determine the voracity of events. But sometimes they have only one or just a few sources. Some historical records are convincing, until historians later determine that the facts were deliberately fabricated or distorted. This is especially possible in cases where very few people witnessed an event, making it easy for them to exaggerate or falsify details.
And sometimes we have many first-person accounts, but they disagree. Even when we are watching history in the making with our own eyes, as we are today, we don’t always know what is true and what is false. So how can we determine if our primary sources of historical events are objective and accurate?
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” When it comes to the invention of ice cream cones, it seems that no one agrees on anything.
Humans have consumed ice cream since earliest recorded history. But no single inventor has been credited indisputably with its discovery.
Alexander the Great enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. Nero the Roman Emperor had his men collect ice from the Apennine Mountains to produce a type of sorbet. Many historians believe that Marco Polo spread the ice treats through Europe. Others credit Arab traders.Whichever version you believe, we know that vendors sold ice cream on streets across Europe.
Ice cream was also sold from carts in America, often by immigrants who brought versions of ice treats from their homelands. Often with no means of supporting themselves in their new home, ice cream was a decent way to make a living. The treat flourished in 1846 when it became affordable to the masses thanks to Nancy Johnson’s patent for an ice cream maker.
Ice cream was initially served in penny licks. They were small glasses that cost – you guessed it – a penny. Customers licked the confection straight from the cup. But the glass made the scoop inside appear to be larger than it was. Angry customers often broke or stole the glasses.
The glasses also raised serious hygiene issues. There was no feasible way to wash cups between customers. They were linked to the spread of diseases including tuberculosis, not to mention the Russian Flu Pandemic of 1889. By 1899 penny licks were banned in England.
A new way to eat ice cream became a necessity.
The number of ice cream entrepreneurs racing to claim credit for the creation of alternate edible containers looked like a gold rush. To name a few:
1896: Italo Marchiony patented a machine to make edible ice cream containers. He created a dynasty with 40 pushcart vendors on the streets of New York
1902: Amtoio Valvona obtained a patent for a machine that made edible, flat-bottomed, biscuit-style cups for ice cream.
1904: The Saint Louis World’s Fair. Take a ticket and stand in line!
Some people insist that the birth of ice cream cones occurred at the Centennial of the Louisiana Land Purchase from the French: the 1904 Worlds Fair in Saint Louis. According to records, more than 50 vendors sold ice cream at that fair. There were also more than a dozen waffle stands. This is the story of human ingenuity in the face of adversity.
Historian Anne Funderberg has collected seven legends around the invention of the ice cream cone — all with men at the center.
According to the most popular “legend”, ice cream vendor Arnold Fornachou ran out of paper dishes to serve up his ice cream. Lucky for him, his stand was next to that of Ernest Hamwi, a Syrian immigrant selling zalabia, a waffle-style pastry. When Hamwi rolled his unsold zalabia for Fornachou to serve his product, the ice cream cone was born.
After the fair, the business deals and trademark issues got as messy as a scoop of melted ice cream. Hamwi partnered with J.P. Heckle to develop the Cornucopia Waffle Company. He travelled across the United States pitching his new way of eating ice cream.
Meanwhile, in 1910, Hamwi started the Missouri Cone Company. He called his invention the ice cream cone. In 1920 he filed for a patent for a pastry cone-making machine.
This is a nice historical tale, but According to Doumar’s Barbecue in Norfolk, Virginia is the “Home of the world’s first ice-cream cone.” Abe Doumar, an immigrant from Damascus Syria was selling paperweights at the St. Louis Fair. Here is where first-person accounts get interesting. Doumar, or so the site claims, was struck by inspiration when he saw that an ice cream vendor ran out of cups.
“Abe diplomatically proposed that the ice cream vendor and waffle salesman collaborate so that the ice cream stand could continue operating. For the rest of the fair, Abe sold ice cream in the world’s first waffle cones.”
In truth, Mrs. Agnes B. Marshall beat all of these “fathers” of ice cream cones to it. She published her ice cream cone recipe in 1888 in Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Book of Cookery. Her cornet with cream was made from almonds and baked in an oven.
Agnes B. Marshall was the Martha Stewart of the Victorian Era. A celebrity cook, she published numerous books including The Book of Ices in 1885. That tome won her the title, Queen of Ices.
Marshall also ran a domestic staff agency business, a cooking school and sold a line of domestic cooking equipment. In 1886, she started the “The Table,” a successful cooking magazine. She frequently lectured to large audiences. Marshall patented her own ice cream machine that could freeze a pint of the confection in five minutes.
Marshall died at 49, shortly after she fell from a horse. Her business did not do well without her at its heart.
It’s possible that Marshall’s ice cream cone recipe was not the first. In the Historic Food.com essay, An 1807 Ice Cream Cone: Discovery and Evidence Robert J. Weir presents a persuasive argument.
Consider Philibert-Louis Debucourt colored engraving, Frascati, published in 1807. Frascati was a popular garden café/restaurant and gambling house in Paris. It opened in 1789 on the Rue Richelieu. Frascati, a highly successful gathering place, was mentioned in William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.
If you look closely at the lower right hand corner of the engraving, you can see a young woman sitting at a table, licking what appears to be an ice cream cone! Is this a matter of time travel? Or are we missing some historical links in the development of ice cream cones–one of our favorite inventions of the Industrial Revolution.
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