The Ice-Cream Cone: America’s Most Famous Edible Packaging

Want to know how the ice-cream cone went from the dessert plates of snooty Frenchmen into the fist of some rocky-road-smeared toddler at Baskin-Robbins? Here’s the scoop, plus a few other tidbits of 20th-century ice-cream history.

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1770s: Wafer cornets filled with candies, fruit pastes, and creams are served as desserts at fancy dinners throughout Europe.

1807: An engraving by French artist Louis-Philibert Debucourt shows a woman licking ice cream from a wafer cone or cone-shaped holder at the Paris café Frascati.

1850s–1890s: Street vendors in New York sell ice cream in penny licks—small glass containers that must be returned to the vendors after consumption. Breakage is always a problem. Meanwhile, over in London, vendors start to experiment with different containers for their half-penny ices.

1903: New York italian-ice vendor Italo Marchiony patents a mold for a handheld, edible pastry cup that many people believe to be the United States’s first ice-cream cone or at least an important precursor. However, because his pastries have a flat base rather than a cone-shaped one, he loses later lawsuits claiming that ice-cream-cone makers stole his idea.

1904: Ice-cream cones are invented at the St. Louis World’s Fair, probably by Ernest Hamwi, a Syrian immigrant. When his neighbor, an ice-cream vendor, ran out of bowls to give to customers, Hamwi shaped his zalabia—a flat Middle Eastern pastry—into edible cones. But several other vendors claim to have had the same idea before or at the same time Hamwi did, so the question of who deserves the credit remains hazy. All that’s known for sure is that by the end of the fair, more than 50 stands were selling these World’s Fair cornucopias.

1905: Abe Doumar, another Syrian immigrant, builds the first-ever ice-cream-cone machine. The modified waffle iron makes four cones at a time and is still in use at Doumar’s Cones and Barbecue, a restaurant Abe’s brother founded in 1934 in Norfolk, Virginia.

1914: Wafer-like cake cones show up as an alternative to waffle cones in US ice-cream shops. Early ads emphasize that they’re made in a sanitary factory instead of being hand-rolled.

1999: Richard B. Hartman files a patent for a motorized ice-cream cone. No word on whether it was this design that was eventually tested, mass-produced, and featured on Kathie Lee & Hoda in 2009.

2011: A team of seven gelato artisans completes the world’s largest ice-cream cone in Rimini, Italy. It stands a little more than 9 feet, 2 inches tall and consists of an internal wafer cone set inside a larger white-chocolate cone, which is decorated with 2,000 wafer biscuits.

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Photo by Stephanie Bassos, Groupon.