100th Anniversary of the Ice Cream Cone

Most ice cream history buffs believe that the originator of this beloved frozen treat is one Ernest A. Hamwi, a Syrian who'd been a sailor but as an American immigrant had a waffle stand at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair (also called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition). Following is a popular version of the story:

On one particularly busy day, when a nearby ice cream concessionaire, Charles Menches, ran out of dishes, Hamwi came to the rescue. He used a sailor's tool he had at hand to roll a zaiabia (one of the thin, crisp Persian pastries he was vending) into a cone and offered it as a dish substitute. Necessity being the mother of invention, the ice cream vendor took him up on his offer .. . and the result was an instant hit. Suddenly, there was a "World's Fair Cornucopia5' to be had almost anywhere ... within a short time of the consumption of that first cone, there were some fifty ice cream stands selling them. After the Fair, Hamwi became superintendent of the Cornucopia Waffle Co. in St. Louis and in 1910, founded the Missouri Cone Co. If he were to visit an ice cream store today, he'd be surprised to see that we're still baking waffle cones and rolling them on a wooden, conical tool very much like the one he used as a sailor to mend rope a century ago!

Hamwi's story is partly based on a letter he wrote in 1928 to the Ice Cream Trade Journal., long after he had established the Cornucopia Waffle Co. Fifty years ago this year, the International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers - now the International Ice Cream Association [IICA] - held its convention in St. Louis to help celebrate the golden anniversary of that first cone. Though there had been much dispute about the beginnings of the ice cream cone, the Association confirmed the version of the ice cream cone's history which places Hamwi as its originator. Their decision was reached after considerable research, including interviews with Hamwi's relatives and testimony from Stephen H. Sullivan who claimed to have been at the 1904 Fair and witnessed the birth of the cone.

But the story doesn't end there. Now, two generations later, the IICA has reached a different conclusion. In the most recent issues of its publication. The Latest Scoop, they assert that "Italo Marchiony, who migrated from Italy in the late 1800s, produced the first ice cream cone in 1896 in New York City." They acknowledge the 1904 World's Fair version of the cone's history only insofar as giving credit to Hamwi for introducing and popularizing it there (i.e., not creating it, per se).

What is there in support of the claim that Marchiony is the originator of the ice cream cone? Well, for one thing, William Marchiony of Thousand Oaks, CA, reports that his grandfather, Italo, applied to the U.S. Patent Office for a patent on his new mold, and Patent Number 746971 was issued to him on December 13, 1903. Author-researcher Paul Dickson (The Great American Ice Cream Book, Atheneum, 1973) wrote this about the Marchiony invention: 'The mold was described in the patent application as being "split in two like a waffle iron and producing several small, round pastry cups with sloping sides." (See illustration, courtesy of Mike Exinger ofZinger's Ice Cream Parlor & Sweets, Seaside, Oregon.)

These pastry cups had to be tiny, to fit 10 of them in a waffle-size iron, and they wouldn't be like today's cup cone, but an edible "cuplet," to replace the "penny licks" - small, glass containers used by street ice cream vendors. But Marrchiony's grandson. Bill, claims that Italo used these cuplets, made on his patented mold, to increase the efficiency of his street-vending business, and thereby made the first ice cream cones.

Bryce Thomson, author of The Sundae School Newsletter, a monthly publication distributed by the National Ice Cream Retailers Association, strongly believes that Ernest Hamwi should be credited as the originator of the ice cream cone. However, he does write that "[Marchiony] belongs in the history books for inventing the edible ice cream dish!" His little containers were more sanitary than the shot-size glasses they replaced. Penny Licks remained popular for a long time [as noted in Ed Marks' book. Ice Cream Collectibles], even though they were the cause of many health problems. Most vendors seldom washed them as they were passed from one customer to the next. But Thomson agrees with the late Jack Marlowe, who wrote that "the bottoms of [Marchiony's] cups were flat, not conical and thus his post-Exposition claim that the burgeoning cone manufacturers were all violating his patent melted under the hot gaze of the law."

While cookbook authors and many others along with those already mentioned give credence to the Hamwi story, there are yet other claimants to the cone's origin. David Avayou, a Turk who worked at the St. Louis Fair and later operated stores in Atlantic City, said he got the idea after seeing ice cream served in pointed paper cups in France. Abe Doumar, also a Middle Easterner, sold Holy Land souvenirs at that same Fair during the daytime. Nights, he would hang out at Hamwi's waffle stand, according to a July, 2003, Jack Marlowe article. One evening, he took one of Hamwi's pastries, rolled it into a horn, much as he had done back home in Syria when making a sandwich. But this time, instead of filling it with a slice of meat or balls of falafeL he added ice cream to make what he called "a kind of Syrian ice cream sandwich." In a 1947 interview for the Chicago Sun, Max Goldberg also lay claim to selling the first ice cream cone ... in 1903. (In which case, we would be a little late with our centennial celebration of the event.) But Mr. Goldberg himself, in a previous (1944) newspaper interview, stated the cone originated at the St. Louis World's Fair.

There are still more claims and stories connected with the origins of this most popular, all-American treat. For a different slant on the Hamwi story, go to "A Brief History of the Ice Cream Cone." Also see Linda Stradley's "History of the Ice Cream Cone", where she acknowledges that 'the 1904 Fair was the place where the cone became popular and where the great ice cream cone controversy began." But Linda also mentions Mrs. A.B. Marshall's Cookery Book as being the first recorded use of a cone for serving ice cream. Mrs. Marshall (1855-1905) was an Englishwoman. And the idea for stuffing rolled waffle-comets with a yummy treat appears to have come from Charles Ranhofer (1836-1899), chef at New York's famous Delmonico's. He wrote a cookbook in 1894 which contains a recipe for these cones filled with flavored whipped cream.


Hamwi's creation and a pastry cup made on Marchiony's invention, with a Penny Lick in the middle. Which one do you think resembles our modem-day cone? Which man do you think should be credited with the origination of the cone? Also, here is a picture of Marchiony's Pastry Cup.

In this picture, the top illustration is what the first ice cream cones looked like. For several years, this rolled "sugar cone" was the only type available. Below would be the first molded cake cone. According to Bryce Thomson's re­search, it materialized sometime between 1910 and 1916. This illustration is from a 1917 ad which emphasized that Cremo Cake Cones were "made in clean, sanitary factories .. . Not a hand-rolled cone." Cone manufacturing became a highly competitive business and improved designs were frequent. Example: the advertisement for The McLaren "Real Cake Double Ring Cone" (right, center) claimed that "an ice cream cone without a nesting ring is old-fashioned," and that up-to-date fountain owners now demand ring cones." The competition to create best­seller cone designs was stiffest in the 1930s, writes author Paul Dickson. "Companies would bring out a new line each year. There were cones with a side-pouch for an extra scoop, spiral cones, cones that stood on the table, those that looked like rocket ships (or Gothic spires), those that borrowed from tum-of-the-century bathtub designs ... This decade-long flurry of intense creative activity, when inventors throughout the land dreamed of originating the great American cone, is half-forgotten history today." But in this era of high awareness of the environmentally-correct, we can still agree with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare official who said 30 years ago that, "The ice cream cone is the only ecologically sound package known. It is the perfect package."

THE LAST IMPORTANT improvement to the cone came in the late 1930s with the introduction of the "dripless" cake cone in both pointed and cup styles. Their flared tops did much to solve the dripping problem - until ten to 15 years ago, that is, when operators started heaping huge dips on cones designed to accommodate small ones!

By the way, dripping had been dealt with in various ways before. Earlier in the century, the Sayford Paper Specialty Co. ofVineland, N.JL, designed and sold a pleated, white paper apron which could be slipped onto a cone. "The customer wants them to protect his clothes, his car, his furniture and his disposition," the company's ad stated, adding, "and he doesn't have to turn his handkerchief into a mop." These little paper skirts could be imprinted with the ice cream retailer's logo. As the Sayford ad put it, "... they put your advertising under the very nose of the man who is most interested, when he is in his most receptive mood." 
Within the first two decades of the ice cream cone's debut at the St. Louis World's Fair, notes Mr. Dickson, "America [had] wolfed down an estimated 245 million of them." We have long since stopped counting ...

Reprinted (with permission) from The Sundae School Newsletter January 2004, edited by Bryce Thompson

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