On July 23, 1904, according to some accounts, Charles E. Menches conceived the idea of filling a pastry cone with two scoops of ice cream and thereby invented the ice cream cone. He is one of several claimants to that honor: Ernest Hamwi, Abe Doumar, Albert and Nick Kabbaz, Arnold Fornachou, and David Avayou all have been touted as the inventor(s) of the first edible cone. Interestingly, these individuals have in common the fact that they all made or sold confections at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. It is from the time of the Fair that the edible “cornucopia,” a cone made from a rolled waffle, vaulted into popularity in the United States.
I give Bette the church money for the family, but I do my own charity work myself, so I can see where my money goes. I like to send the ragged little boys who hang around the shop to the movies occasionally, and give them money for ice cream cones to cool them off in summer.
[Growing Up with the Automobile]. Marion Jennings, interviewee; Rose D. Workman, interviewer. Charleston, South Carolina, February 10, 1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division
Another claimant, Italo Marchiony, actually received a patent in 1903 for a device to make edible cups with handles. However the patent drawings show the device as a molded container rather than the rolled waffle seen at the Fair. Although paper and metal cones were used by Europeans to hold ice cream and pita bread was used by Middle Easterners to hold sweets, the ice cream cone seems to have come to America by way of “the PikeExternal” (as the entertainment midway of the St. Louis World’s Fair was called).
The origins of ice cream have been traced back as far as the second century B.C., although a specific date and inventor have not been indisputably credited. Noted figures known to have enjoyed the frozen treat include Alexander the Great (356 BCE-323 BCE), who is said to have eaten snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar, as well as Roman emperor Nero Claudius Caesar (37 AD-68 AD), who supposedly sent runners into the mountains for snow which was then flavored with fruits and juices. Although legend has it that Marco Polo brought back to Europe a Chinese method for creating an ice and milk concoction, recent scholarship indicates that if he did bring back such a recipe, it was probably not from China but from elsewhere along his route. Over time, recipes for ices, sherbets, and milk ices evolved and were served in the fashionable Italian and French royal courts. After the dessert made its appearance in the United States, it was served by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Dolley Madison. It also was set out for guests at the inauguration of Andrew Jackson.
The use of ice mixed with salt to lower and control the temperature of the mix of ingredients proved a major breakthrough in the creation of ice cream as we know it. The invention of the wooden bucket freezer with rotary paddles facilitated its manufacture at home, making ice cream a staple of kitchens across the land.
A Baltimore company first produced and marketed wholesale ice cream in 1851. The treat became both distributable and profitable with the introduction of mechanical refrigeration. The ice cream shop or soda fountain has since become an icon of American culture.
Dud Leaves Home
The Origins of American Animation documents the development of early American animation. The collection includes twenty-one animated films and two fragments which span the years 1900 to 1921. The films feature clay, puppet, and cut-out animation, as well as pen drawings.
Indulge your taste for the heavenly cream with the Library’s Digital Collections.
- Enjoy the parody, “Molly Guzzled the Ice Cream” from the collection America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets. This ditty, coined by the pseudonymous”Professor” was intended to be sung to the tune of a popular tear-jerker of the time,” Mother Kissed Me in My Dream,” available online in the Civil War Sheet Music Collection.
- Learn to sing another popular nineteenth-century song, “I Scream; or, Ice Cream” found in Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885.
- View images of ice cream parlors and soda fountains of yesteryear. Several photographs of Zaharako’s Ice Cream Parlor, which opened in 1900 in Columbus, Indiana, are available in the collection Historic American Buildings Survey/ Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey.
- Find more images of ice cream in the following collections:
- Listen to a debate on the economic potential of an ice cream sale in Voices from the Dust Bowl: the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940 to 1941.
- Thomas Jefferson’s Recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream, one of several recipes acquired while he was ambassador to France in the 1780s, is featured in American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Find more historical culinary treasures in the Imagination section of the exhibition.
- Search on ice cream in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 for topical stories and recollections. For example, let Anna Potter Davis tell you about dating and making ice-cream.
- Explore additional resources about ice cream compiled by the Library’s Business Reference Services.
- For those who fancy an ice cream-and-coke “float,” see the Today in History feature on Coca Cola.