How The St. Louis World's Fair Changed Ice Cream Cones Forever

Ice cream is a dessert that conjures up images of summer, sun, and fun. It is a portable frozen sweet that is often placed inside of an edible cone, but that wasn't always the case.

What's Cooking America shares that the first version of portable ice cream cones were made out of paper or metal and is thought to have appeared in Europe as early as the 18th century. Additionally, back then, a scoop of ice cream could also be served in a small glass for people to lick the contents out. Once the container was returned, it would be reused for the next customer. This often proved to be as unsanitary as it sounds. The glasses that were utilized back then were dubbed as "licking glass" or "penny licks," (via Atlas Obscura). 

According to What's Cooking America travelers from Düsseldorf, Germany reported eating ice cream out of edible cones in the late 1800s. Italian immigrant Italo Marchiony is believed to have invented a version of the ice cream cone in New York City in 1896, according to the International Dairy Food Association. He was granted a patent in December 1903 for an ice-cream-cup-making machine that baked an edible waffle that would then fold into the shape of a cup. But just a year later, a different ice cream cone invention took off at the St. Louis World Fair. 

The St. Louis World's Fair popularized ice cream cones

The edible ice cream cone was popularized in America at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. While some sources name a variety of people for the introduction of this food item, most credit Syrian immigrant and waffle salesman named Ernest Hamwi for the popularization of the cone. Hamwi was selling a waffle-like pastry, called a Zalabia, next to an ice cream vendor who didn't have any serving dishes left. It was then that his neighboring vendor needed a new method of delivering the creamy treat to customers (via What's Cooking America). According to the International Dairy Foods Association, Hamwi addressed the issue by rolling a waffle into a cone shape and using it as a serving vessel to transport the treat to happy customers.

His idea had lasting appeal. The ice cream cone eventually became a staple and a part of fast food culture.

When the St. Louis World's Fair introduced the cone into the mainstream, Marchiony tried to protect his cone patent through legal channels, ultimately to no avail. Hamwi would later go on to open the Missouri Cone Company, and while it's still unclear who developed the original version of the edible ice cream cone, in the 1950s the International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers would recognize Hamwi as "the official creator of the ice cream cone," according to Time.