Today, the ice cream cone is a standard in any ice cream store or stand. This tasty treat is known as a way to cool down in the summer and makes an edible container for a cold snack. The frosty smoothness of the ice cream complements the crispy crunch of the cone for an interesting taste combination. There are almost as many stories of how the ice cream cone was invented as there are flavors that it holds.
The ice cream cone would seem to be a simple and unpolitical a treat, yet it’s origin is hotly contested. The most
favored folk tale regarding the invention of the ice cream cone takes place at the 1904 World’s Fair held in St. Louis,
Missouri. Two food vendors had stalls next to each other. Arnold Fornachou made and sold ice cream. His neighbor,
Ernest A. Hamwi, had come to the United States from Damascus, Syria. Hamwi made sweet wafers (much like today’s
wafer-like cookies) that Syrians call “zalabias.” Hamwi cooked the wafers on a waffle iron heated over a coal fire,
coated them with sugar, and rolled the wafers while they were still hot so they were easy to eat and carry. When
Fornachou ran out of dishes to hold his ice cream, Hamwi rolled his wafers into a cone shape instead of a tube, and
the gentlemen topped the wafer with scoops of Fornachou’s ice cream. Zalabias became “World’s Fair Cornucopias,”
and the cone concept was born.
With over 50 ice cream vendors at the Fair, Hamwi was soon doing a land-office business. He started his own
cone company after the Fair called the Cornucopia Waffle Oven Company, but tired of business and went to work for
the competition, Heckle’s Cornucopia Waffle Oven Company in St. Louis. The cornucopia or waffle name was replaced
with the word cone in 1906. Meanwhile, Hamwi promoted cones at fairs all across the United States. Returning to his
own business in 1910, Hamwi started the Missouri Cone Company of St. Louis. He died in 1943 after amassing a
fortune founded on ice cream cones.
A second contender, David Avayou also claims to be the cone’s creator. Avayou owned an ice cream parlor in
New Jersey where he made both ice cream and cones. He took his wares to the St. Louis World’s Fair and claims to
have been selling them there when Fornachou and Hamwi stumbled on their joint product.
Still a third contestant is Abe Doumar, another immigrant who had moved with his family of 12 brothers and sisters
from Lebanon to St. Louis. Doumar’s favorite treat from his homeland was a pita bread rolled into a cone shape and
filled with fruity jam. He approached another of the Fair’s zalabia-makers and suggested applying the same concept
by rolling a waffle and filling it with ice cream. Doumar later developed a variety of waffle machines, moved to New
York, and sold ice cream cones at Coney Island. By the 1930s, Doumar owned a number of restaurants along the East
Coast; the new trend for “fast food” that grew with the popularity of the automobile almost drove him out of business
until he got the idea to make waffle cones in the front windows of his restaurants. The baking process and the girls in
the windows rolling cooked waffles into cones became attractions that saved the restaurants.
Opposing these charming stories is a solid fact. In 1903 (the year before the World’s Fair), Italo Marchiony was
awarded a patent for the “pastry comet,” which he developed to hold his frosty wares. Marchiony was an Italian
immigrant who lived in New York City. His product was lemon ice that he scooped onto small glasses and sold to
customers along Wall Street. After consuming the ice, the customer returned the glass, and it was washed and used
again. Breakage and the continual task of washing dishes frustrated Marchiony; he substituted paper cones, but these
(and littering consumers) made a messy problem. As early as 1896, Marchiony invented a fully consumable
alternative. By 1903, he had made a machine that created cones like the sugar cone known today. The machine
resembled a long waffle iron with spaces to cook 10 cones. Later, Marchiony opened a cone factory in Hoboken, New
Jersey. He is also credited with building the first ice cream sandwich with two waffle squares.
Apart from his patent from the United States government as proof, Marchiony has history and sentiment on his
side. His business of selling lemon ice in glass scoops is part of a tradition in Italy dating back to the early 1800s. The
Penny-Ice Men became common across Europe from about 1820 to 1860, as revolution and economic hard times
drove immigration. Part of this wave consisted of Italians who left their homeland for Europe’s major cities. They
pushed carts through the streets beginning as early as 7 A.M. during the summers and sold flavored ice seated on
tiny glass goblets. A goblet cost a penny, the people consumed the ice, and the goblet was returned to the vendor. In
Italy, the Penny-Ice Men cried, “Ecco un poco, che un poco” (Here’s a little for so little [money]), and this cry became
distorted by non-Italians into the word hokeypokey. In New York and other American cities—where the custom had
migrated by the mid-1800s—the Penny-Ice Men were known as Hokeypokey Men. Their trade and their use of the
tiny glass goblets are a direct link to the development of the ice cream cone.
After the World’s Fair, cone-making machines were regularly sold in catalogs for $8.50. Individual vendors
could afford these, so the street vending of ice cream now accompanied by cones grew enormously. In 1912,
Frederick Bruckman devised a machine that rolled the cones hot from the waffle iron automatically; 245 million ice
cream cones were sold in 1924 alone.