A US postage stamp issued in 1998 commemorated the invention of the ice cream cone at the St.Louis World's Fair in 1904. The stamp is inspired by a photo of a St.Louis family visiting the fair. The photo is the only direct image from the fair showing this novel way to eat ice cream. Several ice cream vendors who had booths at the fair claimed this invention as their own; however, the fair operators' careful records of licensed vendors do not clearly prove who owns this glorious honor. Whatever else is said, the creation of a waffle bent into the shape of a cone and filled with a scoop of ice cream is indeed recognized as having started on the famous fairgrounds in St.Louis in 1904.
|On the cover: the same photo used for the stamp.|
Vaccaro also explored the other claims of "firsts" at the fair. These, she found, do not represent real inventions or even introductions, but less dramatic popularization or even a total mistake. For example, a particular tea vendor is often said to have introduced iced tea in response to the oppressive St.Louis summer heat. This very same individual had actually sold iced tea at the Chicago World's fair a decade earlier. In addition, Vaccaro found many recipes and references to iced tea during the 19th century.
Beyond the Ice Cream Cone is a fairly amusing book, though sometimes I felt that the author was talking down to me. Maybe that's because she's a long-time elementary and middle-school teacher who feels the need to explain everything in great detail and to repeat herself frequently. Nevertheless, there's a lot of food history here, especially the large amount of information about the control of every detail of food offerings by the committee that ran the fair, about the agricultural and manufacturing exhibits and their numerous free samples, and about the many and varied foods available from restaurants and outdoor vendors. In addition, Vaccaro includes many details, including recipes, about the famous food author Sarah Tyson Rorer (1849-1937), who ran a restaurant and gave cooking demonstrations to her adoring fans throughout the eight months of the fair.
Although I grew up in walking distance of the site of the World's Fair, I can't recall hearing a lot of talk about the fair when I was growing up. Vaccaro's book has me thinking of all the stories that I never heard, though surely some of the older people who were around when I was growing up had memories of something about the fair. I knew that many of the buildings in Forest Park and on the campus of Washington University (where I went to college) had originally been built for the World's Fair -- in particular, the building shown on the souvenir post card above, which I found by a web search. This building was used for the administration of the Fair, and subsequently housed the administration of the University.
While visitors to the fair had a variety of hotel and rooming accommodations available to them, as described in Vaccaro's book, these were expensive, and the fair attracted people who couldn't afford them as well as those who could. Not included in the book is that those who had less money could stay at "Camp Lewis" in the emerging town of University City, an encampment of tents including inexpensive meals and minimal service. This is especially fascinating to me because the site of Camp Lewis became the subdivision where my parents' house was located and where I spent my childhood. Lewis, founder of University City and owner of Camp Lewis, was a very colorful character -- a successful businessman who finally ended up in jail. But that's a story for another day (link).
This blog post © 2020 by mae sander. Photos as credited.