When the Waffle Met the Cream

There’s a great, if hotly disputed, legend about the ice cream cone. It dates back to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, the famous Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Several fair food classics are said to have been invented there, among them the hot dog, cotton candy, the hamburger and of course the ice cream cone.

The story goes like this: it was a hot, steamy summer day at the exposition, and ice cream vendors were doing a brisk business. Among them one Charles Menches, who was selling so well he ran out of cups. The customers started complaining — loudly. Eventually the hubbub attracted the attention of an intrepid Syrian pastry maker by the name of Ernst Hamwi. Hamwi was selling zalabia that day, a kind of crispy Syrian pastry toasted on a waffle press. Suddenly inspiration struck: if he rolled the zalabia into a cone he’d have the perfect edible ice cream holder! He rushed a stack to Menches’ ice cream stall and the rest is history.

Except for the fact that a New Yorker by the name of Italo Marchioni had already applied for and received a U.S. patent for an edible ice cream cup by that time, in 1903. Across the pond, printed references to the ice cream cone started appearing in 1888. European dessert lovers were eating dessert creams of all kinds out of cone-shaped wafer cornets all through the 1880’s. In fact cone-shaped paper, glass and even metal ice cream serving devices were common on the Continent at least as far back as 1807.

Add it all up and you have a great case against the St. Louis World’s Fair as the point of discovery for the ice cream cone. That, however, hasn’t kept the descendants of Menches and Hamwi — as well as those of a score of other pastry and ice cream makers from the 1904 World’s Fair — from arguing about it to this very day.

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