I Scream, You Scream

Summertime, depending on your point of view, is either good or bad. For some it is a wonderful time for outdoor activities, fun in the sun, beach going, barbeque cookouts, water sports, baseball games, and girls in bikinis, for others it is a miserably hot, humid time with long days that never seem to cool off until late at night, if you’re lucky enough not to have the humidity. Personally I like some of summer, particularly the barbeques, but all in all, I’d rather have autumn and winter. Who says girls can’t wear bikinis by the fireside?

In the summer of 1904 a lot of people went to St. Louis, Missouri which was hosting a World’s Fair to celebrate the centennial of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. It was delayed from a planned opening in 1903 to 1904, to allow for full-scale participation by more states and foreign countries. The Fair opened April 30, 1904, and closed December 1, 1904. Since the 1880s St. Louis had held an annual St. Louis Exposition with agricultural, trade, and scientific exhibitions, but scrapped it in 1904 for the World’s Fair.

Lots of new stuff was introduced at that World’s Fair. Movie fans will remember Judy Garland and her family totally awe-struck as all the electrical lights went on at the end of Meet Me in St. Louis. That was part of the Palace of Electricity exhibits which featured the progress in electric lighting and the use of electric power for that time. What the movie didn’t show us, unfortunately, was the single most important thing to come out of that World’s Fair; the biggest cultural advancement in summertime heat relief since the invention of the ceiling fan – the ice cream cone.

That’s right, the walk-away edible ice cream cone made its American debut at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Ice cream in a cone was served up by several vendors at the fair, although nobody knows for sure who it was who came up with it first. Paper and metal cones had been used in Europe for some time to hold ice cream, but once the ice cream was gone, chewing those cones left an awful taste in your mouth. The metal was pretty hard on digestion, too. It kind of gave you that heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach.

But Uncle Tonoose to the rescue! Lebanese immigrant, Abe Doumar built one of the first machines in the United States for making ice cream cones. Doumar created waffle-type cones by adapting a waffle iron into a cone oven. However, Doumar did not make his first cone oven until after the World’s Fair. It was Italian immigrant, Italo Marchiony, who submitted a patent in 1903 for a mold to make an edible cup with handles. On July 23, 1904, Charles Menches of St. Louis, Missouri started filling pastry cones with two scoops of ice cream and the rest is glutton history.

Most historians believe that there were over fifty ice cream cone stands at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and it is possible that several people invented the ice cream cone at the same time. But there’s no question that the cone definitely become popular in America by way of the St. Louis World’s Fair. One of the stories has it that the Banner Creamery’s owner George Bang was selling ice cream at the fair when suddenly he ran out of bowls and was given rolled-up waffles to serve it in instead. Others credit Ernest A. Hamwi, a waffle maker at the World’s Fair, as the first inventor. But as I said, no one knows who did it first, and actually not many care. I don’t care. I only care that it happened.

At that time the earliest cones were rolled by hand, from hot and thin wafers, but in 1912, Frederick Bruckman, an inventor from Portland, Oregon, patented a machine for rolling ice cream cones. He sold his company to Nabisco in 1928, which is, as far as I know, still producing ice cream cones along with many other companies today. Now we have a million types of ice cream cones. Sugar cone, cake cone, and waffle cone are the three favorites, although I’m sure there are others. Can falafel cones, pita cones, tortilla cones, tofu cones, soy cones, and hummus cones be far behind?

Ah, for the simpler times, the good old days of paper and metal cones – a bit hard on the digestion maybe, but not as fattening. So for me one of the very best parts of summer is the ice cream cone. Why not celebrate the St. Louis World’s Fair this summer by watching Meet Me in St. Louis, cranking on the electrical air conditioning system, and having yourself a nice big ice cream cone? Go on. Live it up. It’ll be autumn before you know it.