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Who Invented the Ice Cream Sundae?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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There are a number of different accounts of who invented the ice cream sundae. It’s possible that all three are true. Adding syrup to ice cream could have spontaneously occurred in a number of places. Moreover, someone might have invented the dish, before the dates on the various sundae invention accounts, and it simply didn’t catch on. Ice cream historians look at three possible stories as the genesis of the ice cream sundae.

The earliest date of invention is 1881, and is credited to two competing soda fountain owners in Wisconsin. Ed Berners of Two Rivers, Wisconsin supposedly started adding syrup used for sodas as a topping for ice cream, and charged a nickel for this result that pleased so many customers. Meanwhile, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, George Giffy also enjoyed the results of Berners’ new confection, but he thought a nickel was too inexpensive. Giffy decided to serve the ice cream sundae only on Sundays. Later the name of the ice cream dessert was deliberately misspelled so as not to offend religious folk who treated Sunday as a special day.

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The next date in ice cream sundae history is 1890, when Evanston, Illinois passed a law prohibiting the use of soda water on Sundays. Soda fountains could obviously not make ice cream sodas, or serve regular sodas on Sundays, but they could still serve soda syrup and ice cream. Few can agree on the first soda shop or person to add syrup to ice cream in Illinois, but several soda shops began serving this delicious treat because of the ban on soda.

Another account takes place later in the history of ice cream, in 1893. Chester Platt, who owned Platt & Colt’s Drugstore in Ithaca, New York, wanted to make a special ice cream dish for one of his patrons, the Reverend John Scott. He added cherry syrup to vanilla ice cream and topped the results with a cherry. The name, as the account goes, derived from the fact that this occurred on a Sunday.

Many food historians believe that the most credible accounts are those occurring in Two Rivers and in Ithaca. Yet the Evanston story makes sense too. By the early 20th century, ice cream sundaes were in vogue in many parts of the US, and ice cream parlor, soda shop and drug store owners got increasingly inventive with the types of toppings added. Hot fudge was already a topping for desserts prior to the advent of the ice cream sundae, and it became a natural addition. The banana split, perhaps one of the most popular variants of the ice cream sundae, has another disputed history, but likely was created in 1904 by David Evans Strickler at Tassel Pharmacy in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

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Rotergirl
Post 2

This is proof positive Americans have loved sugar for a long time. I'm a purist, myself. I like hot fudge, a sprinkling of nuts, preferably toasted pecans, a little whipped cream and a cherry. I'm not really into all these "monster" sundaes you read about or see on the food shows. That's just too much ice cream. Even if you have eight friends helping you, it's a lot to eat.

Pippinwhite
Post 1

Well, I am indebted to whomever invented this dessert! I have a sneaking suspicion a form of the sundae was popular in rural homes long before 1881, though. I say this because making ice cream in the summer was a popular pastime many years before. Those who had maple syrup or molasses handy would spoon a dollop over their ice cream. There are references to this practice in contemporary books. It just finally made its way into the culture after ice cream shops picked up on it.

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