It is simple, is it not? As seen on TV, the history of the ice cream cone started when a fellow selling ice cream at the 1904 World's Fair ran out of dishes. A vendor nearby was making and selling a thin waffle type pastry. The clever ice cream vendor bought the waffles, rolled them into a cone, filled them with ice cream, and thus was the ice cream cone born. We know this, as we have seen and heard a glib and smiling TV show host explain it with confidence. Isn't that right?
As shocking as it may seem, not everything announced by television hosts is in fact absolutely verifiable by historical research. There are a few snags in the flow of the theory that attributes the ice cream cone to the World's Fair vendor. There are some interesting characters involved in cone history, and some fascinating facts. With patents, profits, and proud descendents involved, you would expect passions to rise high and verbiage to be plentiful and fluent. You would not be disappointed.
We of the United States would love the ice cream cone to be our invention. The honors would be considerable, and the story of the clever ice cream vendor fits so nicely with the tradition of American ingenuity, inventiveness, and adaptation of traditional methods and materials to modern uses. We would love to believe it. There are however just a few little problems with that. Facts, in their usual annoying way, insist on intruding into our pleasant fantasy.
Still dealing with just that famous fair and the events surrounding it, several names are brought forward as candidates, with the families defending their ancestors with such facts and anecdotes as are available. The main myth has Ernest Hamwi, a pastry maker selling a flat waffle type pastry, and ice cream vendor Arnold Fomachou as its main characters. The pastry man rescued the young ice cream seller from his out-of-containers crisis, and became the inventor of the ice cream cone.
Then there is Abe Doumar. Allegedly he was at the fair selling souvenirs from the Middle East, when he proposed the idea to the waffle maker nearby. The waffle was selling for a penny, and Abe saw the opportunity to increase profits by adding ice cream and upping the price to a dime. This quote from the website for the establishment still maintained by his descendents describes the event: "Abe Doumar came from Damascus, Syria; and created the first ice cream cone at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. One evening he purchased a waffle from a nearby vendor, rolled it into a cone and topped it with ice cream."
David Avayou, a Turkish immigrant, was an ice cream shop owner who claimed he developed the cone and first introduced it at the St. Louis fair. Also ice cream vendors, the Menchen brothers, Frank and Charles claim to have invented the cone at the fair when one of their fastidious lady friends used a waffle as a container for drippy ice cream.
Other claims exist, not surprising considering that there were fifty or more ice cream stands at the fair, and a great many waffle and pastry vendors. As the ice cream cone has become so popular and profitable, the descendents of several of these are still defending their claims today.
Wait a minute. Ice cream existed a long time before the 1904 World's Fair. Did it take that long to come up with the cone idea? The simplest, most believable answer is; no, it did not. Ice cream, according to how you define it, has been around for a long time. At least four centuries before the current era there were flavored ice concoctions mentioned in historical documents. Before recorded history, it is hard to believe that people would not have discovered the combination of snow or ice with fruit and various sweet substances.
As to containers, many records exist from early times. Unfortunately for American pride and family traditions, many of these are from Europe and far predate the claimed invention of the cone at the St. Louis fair.
For one thing, wafer type cones were mentioned as far back as the 18th century, with several cook-books published in the 1700's describing pastry cones to be filled with a variety of crèmes and iced puddings. There were recorded uses of pastry cones to hold various sweet fillings in France and Italy at that time. As the various national struggles led to immigration to England their iced treats took hold there and became popular street food.
It is known that ice cream existed way back when, as previously mentioned. We can prove that some types of pastry cones were available, and that sweet treats were served in them. Various types of edible cones were used all over Europe to serve ice cream or its relatives. Cookbooks and other documents make it clear that cones were common and popular. There is even a famous picture, a colored engraving, titled Frascati, that shows a young women eating what appears to be an ice cream cone at the famous cafe in Paris. She is clearly holding a cone-shaped something, and licking the end of it. She appears to be enjoying it.
The problem is, you see, that not all cones were edible cones. There were paper cones, from which the treat was enjoyed and the container discarded. There were metal cones that were returned to the vendor. There were little glass dishes from which the ice cream was licked, the dish returned to the dealer, and hopefully washed well before being put back into service. No wonder the ice cream cone became so popular. Do you want to lick from the dish that was just licked by that fellow walking away now, wiping his hands on his trousers? No, you do not, and neither do the rest of us.
Filling a clear and urgent need, the earliest cone-type edible container patent may be that of Antonio Valvona, in Manchester, England, in 1902. His patent is for an "Apparatus for Baking Biscuit Cups for Ice Cream." This is described in the patent as follows: "By the use of the apparatus of this invention I make cups or dishes of any preferred design from dough or paste in a fluid state this is preferably composed of the same materials as are employed in the manufacture of biscuits, and when baked the said cups or dishes may be filled with ice-cream, which can then be sold by the venders of ice-cream in public thoroughfares or other places."
You understand that the word biscuit is used in the British traditional sense, and describes what we in the US call a cookie.
Then in 1903 Italo Marchiony filed for an application to patent his edible container for ice cream, inspired to prevent loss of money due to his ice cream cart customers walking off with his serving dishes. After the boom in popularity of the ice cream cone following that famous fair in 1904, Marchiony fought to prove he owned the patent to the ice cream cone. Unfortunately for him, his patent only applied to a certain container, not the combination of cone and ice cream. There were plenty of other cone makers to come.
Certainly, after the fair in St. Louis, the ice cream cone became vastly popular. Several of those claiming the invention of the World's Fair cone went on to found companies to produce cones for ice cream. Though the patent has not been proven, in 1912 Frederick Bruckman is said to have invented a machine to roll ice cream cones. This claim is supported by the fact that Nabisco latter bought his company and manufacturing rights. For a fact in 1924 patent No. 1,481,813 was granted to Carl Taylor and was clearly described as a device to make cone-shaped containers for ice cream.
Many of those early post-fair cone makers had great success stories. Some are still in business today. Abe Doumar, the Middle East souvenir vendor that wanted to increase the price from a penny to a dime by combining cone and ice cream, went on to found an establishment that is a Virginia success story still today. Observing the success of the cone at the World's Fair, Albert George founded a company that became the Joy Cone Company, now the largest ice-cream cone maker in the world.
Many variants of the cone have become popular over the years. Cones with flat bottoms, so they will stand up, are popular for serving ice cream to children. Although there is nothing to stop one from stacking scoops as high as you dare in a normal cone, a double cone has been developed, to serve two scoops in a stable fashion. Another advancement still appreciated today was born in 1928, when J. T. Parker invented an ice cream cone that could be stored in a grocery-store freezer. His company was later bought out by Nestle, but his invention, called the Drumstick, was a huge hit then and still popular now.
So who did invent the ice cream cone? Was it one of those World's Fair guys, or some forgotten European pastry chef? To be sure the popularity of the ice cream cone greatly expanded in the years after the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. If they did not invent the cone, they surely did ignite the fad. The best case we can make to defend the heritage of American inventors and the claims to fame of the several surviving ice cream cone making families from that time is that the key to the definition of the term ice cream cone is the ice cream and cone combination as a walk around eating arrangement. Before that, cones may have been filled with ice cream relatives, and nibbled in a dainty manner by fine diners. There may have been a few obscure instances of ice cream cart men offering their products in cones. But since that fair the cone has taken off. The patents are on record, the companies are still going strong, and the proof is available in stores, specialty shops, and stands across the country and around the world. Maybe we did not invent it, but we did get it right at last and then sell it to the world.