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A history of the ice cream cone

A history of the ice cream cone

Where would we be without the humble ice cream cone? A mainstay of the global snacking market, this clever carrier evolved over many decades and, like many pioneering food innovations today, it began its journey on the city street.

BC (before the cone)

Whilst its official year of invention is claimed to be 1904, people had been eating ice cream from a variety of coneshaped containers for decades before that. However, the containers themselves weren’t edible. Historical archives show street vendors in the 19th century selling “penny licks” - cone-shaped glasses containing ice cream.

Many historians attribute edible cones to British cookery writer Agnes B Marshall. ‘Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Cookery Book’ (1887) includes a recipe for making “Cornets with Cream”, which she noted could also be filled with ice cream or water ice.

Early edible carriers

In the 1870s, immigrant street vendors in London created the “hokey pokey” - a coarse Neopolitan style ice cream which was frozen in rectangular moulds and served in slices wrapped in white paper. The concept was taken to the US by Italian immigrants and the handheld ice cream revolution began. By the 1890s, the paper wrapper was replaced by two square pieces of sweetened wafer. Other street vendors experimented with various moulds and devices to transform the wafers into edible cups.

The mass-produced cone is born

In 1901, Antonio Valvona, an Italian citizen living in Manchester, England, filed a patent for an “Apparatus for Baking Biscuit Cups for Ice Cream”. The device was designed for baking “dough or paste... composed of the same materials as are employed in the manufacture of biscuits [that is, cookies], and when baked, the said cups or dishes may be filled with icecream, which can then be sold by the venders of ice-cream in public thoroughfares or other places.” The following year, Valvona teamed up with Frank Marchiony, an Italian immigrant in New York, to found the Valvona-Marchiony Company, which produced the patented cups and the ice cream sold in them. Valvona operated the firm’s factory in the UK, while Marchiony ran the American operation.

Great minds think alike

Although Valvona and Marchiony are credited with the invention of the cone, a similar creation was independently introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair by Ernest A. Hamwi. Hamwi was selling a crisp, waffle-like pastry - zalabis - in a booth right next to an ice cream vendor. Because of ice cream’s popularity, the vendor ran out of dishes. Hamwi saw an easy solution to the ice cream vendor’s problem: he quickly rolled one of his wafer-like waffles in the shape of a cone, or cornucopia, and gave it to the ice cream vendor.

Variations on a theme

Over the years, three cone types have evolved: waffle, sugar and wafer. Waffle cone: Crunchy in texture and deep caramel in colour, the waffle cone has a higher sugar content than sugar cones but they’re also a good source of fibre. Sugar cone: Sugar cones are similar in appearance to waffle cones but are made with a different type of batter so they are harder. They’re the best option for slow eaters because they don’t get soggy! Wafer cone: Wafer cones have the subtlest flavour of all the cones, as well as the lowest sugar content – making them perfect for kids. If you’re an ice cream purist, wafer cones are the perfect cone to compliment your ice cream without overpowering it.

Download our dedicated gelato and ice cream magazine The Scoop.

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