Ice Cream hits the streets of New York

By Laura Brose c. 2006

The Ice Cream Cone: A Good Idea to Two Different Ethnic Groups in Two Different Parts of America

As anyone who has survived summer in New York City knows, Italian Ices quickly turn into sticky liquid and run through the tiny paper cups they are served in, and holding naked ice cream in a paper wrapper can be messy while walking. “In 1903 (the year before the World's Fair), Italo Marchiony was awarded a patent for the ‘pastry comet’, which he developed to hold his frosty wares. Marchiony was an Italian immigrant who lived in New York City. His product was lemon ice that he scooped onto small glasses and sold to customers along Wall Street. After consuming the ice, the customer returned the glass, and it was washed and used again. Breakage and the continual task of washing dishes frustrated Marchiony; he substituted paper cones, but these (and littering consumers) made a messy problem. As early as 1896, Marchiony invented a fully consumable alternative. By 1903, he had made a machine that created cones like the sugar cone known today. The machine resembled a long waffle iron with spaces to cook 10 cones. Later, Marchiony opened a cone factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. He is also credited with building the first ice cream sandwich with two waffle squares.” (How Products Are Made, volume 6, The Ice Cream Cone) A picture from the patent record for the device shows that the “cones” produced by this device were in fact flat-bottomed shallow dishes. (Liddell, Caroline, and Weir, Robin, 1995, Frozen Deserts, St. Martin’s Press, Griffin imprint, NY., p. 21.) The flat-bottomed cone also recalls the shape of the “penny lick” and the paper cup for Italian Ices.

The flat-bottomed cake cone though undisputedly on record as coming from the mind of Marchiony, seems to have been then lost or ignored until the late 1940s when Joseph Shapiro of the Maryland Cup Corporation (later the Ace Baking Company) is said to have made a cone for mass production with a flat base especially for the Dairy Queen chain. Filling pointy-bottomed cones and handing them to customers takes two hands, but the flat-bottomed cone stands on its own and can be filled more easily. (How Products Are Made, volume 6, The Ice Cream Cone)

Marchiony’s “pastry comet” may have been much like the cornucopias of flaky, soft-baked pastry known in the USA as “Italian horns” filled with ricotta-based cream and found in Italian bakeries, bearing only a passing resemblance to the modern hard-baked ice cream cone. Food historians Robert J. Weir and his wife Caroline Liddell cite an 1807 engraving showing ladies eating pastry coronets of ice cream by picking them up in their fingers at Fraschetti’s Café in Paris as evidence that the idea of serving ice cream in edible conical pastry products originated in Europe long before the first recorded appearance of the ice cream cone in the USA. (Weir, Robert J., “An 1807 Ice Cream Cone: Discovery and Evidence” at Day, Ivan, 2003, Historic Food)

Most Americans attribute the invention of the common pointy-bottomed ice cream cone to a “waffle vendor” at the St. Louis, Missouri World’s Fair held in 1904. The most common story goes that the ice cream vendor next to him ran out of dishes but still had a lot of ice cream to be served, whereupon the waffle vendor formed one of his waffles into a cone, the ice cream man put his ice cream in it, and voila, a way to eat ice cream without dishes or spoons was born. But have you ever actually tried this at home? To roll a cone out of a conventional waffle and try to hold ice cream in it usually ends in dropped ice cream. Things become clearer when it is revealed in most of the tales concerning the origin of the ice cream cone that the waffle vendor who is said to have improvised the cone was of Turkish or Arab extraction. Thus it is possible if not probable that the “waffle” in question wasn’t a common American waffle, soft and spongy in texture, but a thinner, crisper pastry called a zalabia, inherently stiffer stuff, less potentially leaky. “They are historically Levantine, popular in Syria, Lebanon and parts of Iraq and Turkey. For that matter, they're not made in a waffle iron—they're too flat; they most resemble Italian pizzelle, including in the grid pattern that marks their surface. (North African zalabia is a very different dessert: It consists of looping, pretzel-like strands of deep-fried batter, smothered in honey or syrup and often tinted a garish orange.)” (Harvey, David Alan, and Marlowe, Jack, July/August 2003, Saudi Aramco World) Ernest A. Hamwi, David Avayou, and Abe Doumar all claim to have been vendors at the fair and to have invented the ice cream cone, with Doumar, a Lebanese immigrant, later developing a waffle-making machine, moving to North Bergen, NJ, selling ice cream at Coney Island, NY (presumably contained in cones derived from zalabia) and starting Doumar's Cones and Barbecue, a restaurant still operating in Norfolk.