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Examine an Ice Cream History Mystery

Who Invented the Ice Cream Cone?

You've probably read or heard something like the following: "The invention of the ice cream cone occurred in 1904 at the St. Louis Exposition. A vendor selling dishes of ice cream is having a banner sales day, but runs out of dishes on which he is serving his treat. Nearby is a stand belonging to a man who is selling a waffle-like pastry. The waffle seller ingeniously sizes up the situation and suggests using rolled waffles as a substitute for the unavailable dishes. Sales go through the roof, fairgoers are ecstatic, and ice cream history is made!"

But who was the waffle seller?
The International Ice Cream Association (IICA), along with other historians, have tried to affirm the identity of this individual. Could it be...

  • Ernest A. Hamwi - a Syrian immigrant who had a stand at the St. Louis Fair in which he sold a treat called "Zalabia", a waffle-like pastry baked on a waffle iron and topped with sugar or other sweets. He was interviewed by The Ice Cream Trade Journal in the 1920's, and quoted describing how he was located next to an ice cream booth at the 1904 exhibition. Apparently Mr. Hamwi left the Zalabia trade and entered the cone business soon after the St. Louis Fair. He helped develop the Cornucopia Waffle Company, and started the Missouri Cone Company in 1910.
  • Abe Doumar - a Lebanese immigrant who, according to his son, sold souvenirs at the fair. Abe knew of the custom from his homeland of shaping a flat piece of pita bread into a cone, and then filling it with jam or other sweets. When he saw Ernest Hamwi making waffles, he suggested the technique to him. Supposedly, Hamwi was so pleased with the idea that he gave Doumar one of his waffle irons after the fair was over. Abe then went into business the following year, selling "Cornucopias" filled with ice cream at Coney Island. Abe's cone-making machine was still in possession of the Doumar family in Norfolk, Virginia, as of a few years ago.

Girl with Ice Cream Cone

  • Italo Marchiony - an Italian immigrant who undeniably applied for a patent for an ice cream cone mold in 1896, well before the St. Louis Fair. His mold apparently produced a soft flat pastry, which was rolled into a cone at the time of sale, and was used primarily by push cart operators. His patent, # 746,971, was issued December 15, 1903, but Marchiony always insisted that he had been making cones since 1896. Since 1996 was chosen by several organizations as the 100th Anniversary of the ice cream cone, some believe that Marchiony was the first to produce a cone in 1896.
  • David Avayou - a Turkish immigrant who said his idea came from France, where he had first seen vendors using rolled paper cones. A Philadelphia department store hired Avayou to set up an ice cream cone concession after the Fair.
  • Charles Menches - a vendor at the St. Louis Fair who by some accounts introduced the ice cream cone on July 23, 1904. By one version he simultaneously gave an ice cream sandwich and a bouquet of flowers to the young lady he was escorting to the Fair. Not having anything in which to place the flowers, she rolled one of the wafers from the sandwich into a cone to act as a temporary vase for the flowers. Likewise the other wafer was rolled to form a container for the ice cream!

Other historians indicate there were in excess of 50 ice cream booths as well as numerous waffle stands scattered throughout the St. Louis Fair grounds. In The Great American Ice Cream Book, author Paul Dickson believes "it is conceivable that historic marriages of waffle and ice cream occurred independently at several spots on the grounds."

Boy with Ice Cream Cone But one fact remains: at the close of the 1904 St. Louis Fair, the popularity of this "new" manner of eating ice cream had local industries racing to produce molds and machines to be used for baking ice cream cones. Demand for cones quickly outstripped the hand-rolled waffle makers. By 1909 an automatic cone roller was invented, rapidly followed by machines that used a poured batter process, thus eliminating the necessity of rolling the finished product. Cones produced in this manner were formed by pouring batter into a cone shaped mold. These were the forerunners of the cones we enjoy today.

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This is an excerpt from a longer article in the February, 2000 issue of The Ice Screamer.

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