Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me in St. Louis… Meet Me at the Fair

April 30, 2019

Festival Hall St. Louis.jpg

Festival Hall at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition – also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair – is considered by some to be the most significant world’s fair ever.  It was an exposition unlike any the world had ever seen and featured pavilions, gardens, electric light displays, and introduced a number of modern marvels. It opened April 30th and ran through December 1st that year; it drew just shy of 20 million people.

Fair goers marveled at communication wonders like the wireless telephone and also an early fax machine. The x-ray machine was introduced at the fair and two other life saving medical inventions were prominently featured: the Finsen light and Infant Incubators. In the world of transportation, air travel and electric streetcars were both highlighted, but it was the first showing of the personal automobile which created the most buzz.

Yet there was one innovation which, more than any others, captured the imagination of a nation and was destined to be steeped in controversy and take on the qualities of an urban legend. The invention: the ice cream cone.

According to the Infallible Wikipedia, here’s the story:

“Edible cones were patented by two entrepreneurs, both Italian, separately in the years 1902 and 1903. Antonio Valvona, an ice cream merchant from Manchester, UK, patented a biscuit cup producing machine in 1902, and in 1903, Italo Marchioni, an italian ice cream salesman, filed for the patent of a machine which made ice cream containers.

Ice_cream___2A.jpgAt the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, a Syrian/Lebanese concessionaire named Arnold Fornachou was running an ice cream booth. When he ran short on paper cups, he noticed he was next to a waffle vendor by the name of Ernest Hamwi, who sold Fornachou some of his waffles. Fornachou rolled the waffles into cones to hold the ice cream – and this is believed by some (although there is much dispute) to be the moment where ice-cream cones became mainstream.

Abe Doumar and the Doumar family can also claim credit for the ice cream cone. At the age of 16, Doumar began to sell paperweights and other items. One night, he bought a waffle from another vendor transplanted to Norfolk, Virginia from Ghent in Belgium, Leonidas Kestekidès. Doumar proceeded to roll up the waffle and place a scoop of ice cream on top. He then began selling the cones at the St. Louis Exposition. His “cones” were such a success that he designed a four-iron baking machine and had a foundry make it for him. At the Jamestown Exposition in 1907, he and his brothers sold nearly twenty-three thousand cones. After that, Abe bought a semiautomatic 36-iron machine, which produced 20 cones per minute and opened Doumar’s Drive In in Norfolk, Virginia, which still operates at the same location over 100 years later.

While the Ice Cream cone does not appear to have been ‘invented’ at the fair, it certainly gained a foothold in popular culture. With the advent of electricity, ice cream – once a delicacy only for the wealthy – became a mainstay for the average person; an affordable treat during a Saturday outing.

Over the years, of course, refrigeration – one of the top 3 inventions ever (the other two are electricity and flushing toilets) in my opinion – made it possible for people to have ice cream stored in their freezer at home. The ability to buy the ice cream and commercially made cones at the local grocer completed the deal.

Personally, I love ice cream cones. I will always choose to have my ice cream in a cone if one is available. As a child I recall that my mother used to purchase the cake style cones and we usually had a choice between vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream.

waflet conesThen, probably in the early 1970’s, my mother came home from the store one day with colored cake cones. In addition to the boring beige, there were the exciting colors of green, pink, and brown. But even more exciting was the ice cream. It was called chocolate marble and it was an instant favorite. Swirled into the vanilla were ribbons of chocolaty fudge. Now that was an ice cream cone.

Over the years I’ve tried various flavors when at an ice cream shop: Blueberry, Huckleberry, Strawberry cheesecake to name a few… and those are all delicious. But nothing can ever beat a Vanilla chocolate swirl waffle cone. It’s the best.

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