The World's First Ice Cream Sandwich Only Cost A Single Penny

The origin of the ice cream sandwich is a sweet journey that can be traced back to New York City in the late 19th century. It's believed that the first ice cream sandwich was the ingenious innovation of an anonymous street vendor in the Bowery neighborhood in 1899. Pedestrians used a way more whimsical name for the original goodies — "hokey pokeys" — which featured slabs of vanilla ice cream stuffed into paper. The clever peddler then improved the portable treat (and added flavor and texture) by plopping the scoop of vanilla ice cream in between two cookies.

One of the most alluring aspects of the early ice cream sandwich was its price: a mere one cent. This affordability was a key factor in making it accessible to all walks of life, especially the working class and children. The appeal of the handheld delight was attributed to its cost as much as its convenience, because it could be enjoyed on the go without a spoon, and it was (mostly) mess-free.

By the turn of the 20th century, elite members of New York society, including Wall Street brokers, were also digging into the fun. A New York Sun article from August 1900 reads, "The brokers themselves got to buying ice cream sandwiches and eating them in a democratic fashion side by side on the sidewalk with the messengers and the office boys" (via Edible Manhattan). Who knew that such a simple pleasure would have the power to connect people across social strata?

The evolution of the legendary ice cream sandwich

As the decades passed, the ice cream sandwich experienced a series of tasty transformations. A significant development in the ice cream sandwich's history came in the 1940s. Jerry Newberg, an ice cream vendor at Forbes Field (the former home of the Pittsburgh Pirates) is often credited with popularizing the modern version — a wedge of vanilla ice cream smushed between rectangular chocolate wafers.

Over time, the ice cream sandwich became a staple of American ice cream culture. Thanks to large-scale commercial production, the frozen confection was made available in supermarkets and ice cream trucks nationwide.

Today, the ice cream sandwich remains an iconic favorite. In addition to the classic pairing of chocolate "bread" and vanilla filling, gourmet varieties boast artisanal ingredients like coconut milk and vanilla bean flecks. Many ice cream sandwiches also embrace novel flavors and combinations such as mint chocolate chip, Neapolitan, strawberry cheesecake, and salted caramel. Assembling homemade ice cream sandwiches with your preferred ingredients, including unusual ice cream flavors, allows for even more creativity. At its core, the ice cream sandwich remains a deliciously nostalgic dessert that pays tribute to its humble beginnings on the streets of Lower Manhattan.