The Happy Accident Behind The Invention Of Waffle Cones

The only thing better than the sweet, wafting aroma of fresh waffle cones being made is the moment you first bite into said waffle cone once it's been packed to the brim with your chosen flavor of ice cream. So good it makes you want to scream, right?

People all over the world have been screaming for ice cream for centuries. With iterations of the frozen dessert that date back to the second century B.C., what we know as ice cream today is believed to have originated in the 16th century. But it wasn't until thousands of years later that ice cream cones officially entered the chat — and it's been a complicated history ever since.

Fast-forward to the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 — one thing we know for sure is that the waffle cone made a huge showing at this iconic event. And legend has it that a hungry crowd and a Syrian pastry maker's quick thinking are to thank for its invention.

Cornucopia to the rescue

The waffle cone is the ultimate edible vehicle for this frozen treat, and it seems like these two were always made for each other. But the story goes that the perfect pair actually met by accident — a very happy accident, indeed.

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, a concessionaire at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (aka, the 1904 World's Fair) named Ernest A. Hamwi was selling a Middle-Eastern pastry called zalabia: a crisp, fried, waffle-like fritter. When the ice cream vendor in the booth next to him ran out of dishes for his product, Hamwi apparently had the ingenious idea to heat one of his wafery desserts and shape it into a cone to hold the ice cream. Functional creation, delicious result, happy customers.

And thus, America's waffle cone made its debut at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 as the "cornucopia." Hamwi may not have been the first to invent an edible ice cream container, and we may never know if this sweet story is fact or fiction. But there's no denying that this historic event fueled the popularity of the waffle cone we love today.

Precursors to the ice cream cone

There are certainly precursors to the ice cream cone that have existed throughout history prior to the purported meet-cute at the World's Fair. What began as dainty glass cups called "penny licks" and paper-molded holders called "hokey-pokeys" evolved over time into edible containers that became part of the whole ice cream experience, most likely out of necessity from the street vendors selling the treat.

One of the first predecessors of the ice cream cone is a recipe for "Cornets with Cream," a cone-shaped pastry filled with vanilla whipped cream found in "Mrs. A.B. Marshall's Cookery Book," written in 1887. In the early 1900s, Antonio Valvona and Frank Marchiony went on to produce "biscuit cups" (edible dishes made of biscuit dough or paste) at their ice cream factories in the U.K. and New York.

These aren't the only iterations and inventions in the complicated world of the ice cream cone. But whoever deserves the real credit — and whatever went down at the World's Fair in 1904 — the important thing is that the waffle cone exists.