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Ice Cream at the Fair

Author Ramona Caponegro
Air Date 6/7/2005

Ice Cream at the Fair Transcript

Throughout 2004, the city of St. Louis celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. This historic event was marked by art and history exhibits, musical concerts, and a replica of the fair’s giant Ferris wheel. Now, as the special exhibits have been dismantled, the daily icon and reminder of the World’s Fair, at least for many people who grew up in the Midwest, is the ice cream cone, which, as numerous stories tell us, was invented at the St. Louis World’s Fair. But was it really?

In Ice Cream Cones for Sale!, Elaine Greenstein attempts to set the record straight. In her well-researched, enthusiastically narrated picture book accompanied by creamy, pastel illustrations reminiscent of ice creams, sherbets, and sorbets in all of their various flavors, she states on the first page, “There were more than fifty ice-cream sellers at the fair, and, they say, a lot of waffle-makers. At some point the two came together to form an ice cream cone.”

Yet, as she explains, while seven people at the World’s Fair each claimed to have invented the ice cream cone, Italo Marchiony, an ice cream vendor on the streets of New York, applied for a patent for a mold that produced ten ice cream cones at once. His patent was granted on December 15, 1903, a little over four months before the World’s Fair opened in St. Louis on April 30, 1904. Even though Marchiony held the patent on the ice cream cone mold, as Greenstein states, “of course, as you know now, that didn’t stop all those other people in St. Louis from claiming it was their invention. Probably, as far as they knew, they were first.”

In fact, the ice cream cones from the St. Louis World’s Fair may still have been a first. Unlike Marchiony’s flat-bottomed “wafer” cones, Greenstein declares, “the St. Louis version is more like what we call a ‘sugar cone’ or you guessed it — a waffle cone!” On this note of at least partial reconciliation between the factual truth and the Midwestern tales, Ice Cream Cones for Sale! ends, as sweet as the dessert that it describes and as bright as the electric lights of the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Brief Sound clip:


Greenstein, Elaine. Ice-Cream Cones for Sale! New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.
“Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).” 07 February 2005. Reel Classics. 23 March 2005.

Posted in Literature