History Of The Ice Cream Cone; Treat Or Epidemic Invention?

When we think of ice cream cones, our minds often conjure up images of childhood summers spent at the beach or the park. But this innocent reminder of childhood might have roots in a much darker era of our history. Although there are many different tales about how the ice cream cone first came to be, one origin story involves one of the deadliest diseases in human history: tuberculosis.

In the bustling streets of 19th century England, a delightful treat known as the "penny lick" captured the hearts and palates of people from all walks of life. Penny licks were a popular and affordable way to enjoy a cool, creamy indulgence during a time when ice cream was still a luxury.

The origins of the penny lick can be traced back to the early 19th century when ice cream parlors and street vendors began to flourish in England. However, at that time, ice cream was not served in the familiar cones or bowls we know today. Instead, it was sold in small glass dishes called "penny licks."

The name "penny lick" was derived from the fact that customers could purchase a small serving of ice cream for just a penny. These glass dishes were typically shaped like miniature vases, with a narrow opening at the top and a rounded bottom. The vendor would fill the glass with a scoop of ice cream, and the customer would then lick the sweet treat from the rim of the glass.

While the concept of the penny lick was relatively simple, it quickly gained popularity due to its affordability and convenience. People from all social classes could enjoy a refreshing taste of ice cream without breaking the bank. It became a beloved treat for families, workers on their lunch breaks, and even couples on romantic strolls through the bustling streets.

However, the widespread popularity of the penny lick soon gave rise to concerns over public health and hygiene. The same glass dishes were used repeatedly throughout the day, and there were fears that the utensils were not being properly cleaned between servings. This led to the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis, which was highly contagious at the time.

A medical report in 1879 blamed a cholera outbreak on the reuse of glassware and pointed fingers at the ice cream industry for the continuous rise in tuberculosis cases. In 1899 they took a stand and banned penny licks altogether. But that left vendors in a bind, with no way to serve their ice cream. Which is when another invention started to catch on.

One Italian gelato merchant called Italo Marchiony claimed to be the inventor of the now famous waffle cone, saying that he served it in his New York parlour since 1896 and even filed a patent for it in 1903. However there was another merchant from Manchester, England called Antonio Valvona who had filed a similar patent the year before.

Other stories credit the invention of the cone to Ernest Hamwi a Syrian immigrant who was making Zalabia (a Syrian wafer dessert) at the Saint Louis fair in 1904 when he found himself next to an ice cream vendor, and the rest as they say is history.

The origin stories of the ice cream cone are as diverse as the flavours that grace its delicate structure. Regardless of which tale you choose to believe, what remains undeniable is the universal delight sparked by the marriage of creamy ice cream and the crisp, edible cone. Such is the magic of the ice cream cone, its origins entwined in a tapestry of culinary ingenuity and sweet imagination.