The Strange History Behind The Ice Cream Sundae

Ice cream sundaes are a summer staple, and when it starts to get hot, there's nothing quite like a big bowl of your favorite ice cream flavor with chocolate syrup and a cherry on top. But even though you can find an ice cream sundae just about everywhere now, that wasn't always the case, and the origins of the sundae are hotly contested.

Several cities claim to be the site where the first ice cream sundae was invented, including Two Rivers, Wisconsin; Ithaca, New York; Evanston, Illinois; and Cleveland, Ohio (via Farmers' Almanac). According to The New York Times, Two Rivers and Ithaca have even been feuding for years over which town can claim to be the birthplace of sundaes. Residents of Two Rivers believe that Edward C. Berners invented the first sundae in 1881 after a customer asked him to drizzle chocolate sauce over ice cream. Allegedly, Berners started selling the creation on Sundays for 5 cents, hence the name.

However, Ithaca residents claim that local Chester Platt invented the first sundae in 1892 when he served a priest vanilla ice cream covered in cherry syrup with a candied cherry on top (via The New York Times). The priest suggested naming the concoction after the day, Sunday, before the spelling was later changed.

Why ice cream sundaes were created

Despite the various stories and cities claiming to be the real birthplace of the ice cream sundae, there are a few common elements in each one that point toward this dessert's origins. According to Farmers' Almanac, one part of the story that's generally accepted is that ice cream sundaes were the result of Blue Laws. These laws are based in religion, and usually restrict or prohibit activities that could be considered sinful. One Blue Law that existed in the 1800s made selling soda illegal on Sundays, which was a problem for anyone who liked ice cream sodas or root beer floats. First ice cream sundae aside, drugstores started using chocolate sauce instead of soda to get around the law.

The origin story debate heats up again when it comes to pinning down the name "sundae." Farmers' Almanac reports that some residents of Evanston, Illinois claim to be responsible for the name, changing it from "Sunday" (likely inspired by the Blue Law banning soda sales on Sundays that led to the creation of ice cream sundaes) to "sundae" at some point in the late 1800s. Others argue that the spelling was changed to avoid offending anyone, while another story says it was changed to make the dessert marketable on any day of the week.

Though it's unlikely we'll ever know exactly who first drizzled chocolate sauce over ice cream and called it a sundae, many of the facts are similar from story to story. No matter where this dessert came from, its popularity and the unique takes on it definitely aren't going anywhere.