Today, the ice cream cone is a standard in any ice cream store or stand. This tasty treat is known as a way to cool down in the summer and makes an edible container for a cold snack. The frosty smoothness of the ice cream complements the crispy crunch of the cone for an interesting taste combination. There are almost as many stories of how the ice cream cone was invented as there are flavors that it holds.
The ice cream cone would seem to be a simple and unpolitical a treat, yet it’s origin is hotly contested. The most favored folk tale regarding the invention of the ice cream cone takes place at the 1904 World’s Fair held in St. Louis, Missouri. Two food vendors had stalls next to each other. Arnold Fornachou made and sold ice cream. His neighbor, Ernest A. Hamwi, had come to the United States from Damascus, Syria. Hamwi made sweet wafers (much like today’s wafer-like cookies) that Syrians call “zalabias.” Hamwi cooked the wafers on a waffle iron heated over a coal fire, coated them with sugar, and rolled the wafers while they were still hot so they were easy to eat and carry. When Fornachou ran out of dishes to hold his ice cream, Hamwi rolled his wafers into a cone shape instead of a tube, and the gentlemen topped the wafer with scoops of Fornachou’s ice cream. Zalabias became “World’s Fair Cornucopias,” and the cone concept was born.
With over 50 ice cream vendors at the Fair, Hamwi was soon doing a land-office business. He started his own cone company after the Fair called the Cornucopia Waffle Oven Company, but tired of business and went to work for the competition, Heckle’s Cornucopia Waffle Oven Company in St. Louis. The cornucopia or waffle name was replaced with the word cone in 1906. Meanwhile, Hamwi promoted cones at fairs all across the United States. Returning to his own business in 1910, Hamwi started the Missouri Cone Company of St. Louis. He died in 1943 after amassing a fortune founded on ice cream cones.
A second contender, David Avayou also claims to be the cone’s creator. Avayou owned an ice cream parlor in New Jersey where he made both ice cream and cones. He took his wares to the St. Louis World’s Fair and claims to have been selling them there when Fornachou and Hamwi stumbled on their joint product.
Still a third contestant is Abe Doumar, another immigrant who had moved with his family of 12 brothers and sisters from Lebanon to St. Louis. Doumar’s favorite treat from his homeland was a pita bread rolled into a cone shape and filled with fruity jam. He approached another of the Fair’s zalabia-makers and suggested applying the same concept by rolling a waffle and filling it with ice cream. Doumar later developed a variety of waffle machines, moved to New York, and sold ice cream cones at Coney Island. By the 1930s, Doumar owned a number of restaurants along the East Coast; the new trend for “fast food” that grew with the popularity of the automobile almost drove him out of business until he got the idea to make waffle cones in the front windows of his restaurants. The baking process and the girls in the windows rolling cooked waffles into cones became attractions that saved the restaurants.
Opposing these charming stories is a solid fact. In 1903 (the year before the World’s Fair), Italo Marchiony was awarded a patent for the “pastry comet,” which he developed to hold his frosty wares. Marchiony was an Italian immigrant who lived in New York City. His product was lemon ice that he scooped onto small glasses and sold to customers along Wall Street. After consuming the ice, the customer returned the glass, and it was washed and used again. Breakage and the continual task of washing dishes frustrated Marchiony; he substituted paper cones, but these (and littering consumers) made a messy problem. As early as 1896, Marchiony invented a fully consumable alternative. By 1903, he had made a machine that created cones like the sugar cone known today. The machine resembled a long waffle iron with spaces to cook 10 cones. Later, Marchiony opened a cone factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. He is also credited with building the first ice cream sandwich with two waffle squares.
Apart from his patent from the United States government as proof, Marchiony has history and sentiment on his side. His business of selling lemon ice in glass scoops is part of a tradition in Italy dating back to the early 1800s. The Penny-Ice Men became common across Europe from about 1820 to 1860, as revolution and economic hard times drove immigration. Part of this wave consisted of Italians who left their homeland for Europe’s major cities. They pushed carts through the streets beginning as early as 7 A.M. during the summers and sold flavored ice seated on tiny glass goblets. A goblet cost a penny, the people consumed the ice, and the goblet was returned to the vendor. In Italy, the Penny-Ice Men cried, “Ecco un poco, che un poco” (Here’s a little for so little [money]), and this cry became distorted by non-Italians into the word hokeypokey. In New York and other American cities—where the custom had migrated by the mid-1800s—the Penny-Ice Men were known as Hokeypokey Men. Their trade and their use of the tiny glass goblets are a direct link to the development of the ice cream cone.
After the World’s Fair, cone-making machines were regularly sold in catalogs for $8.50. Individual vendors could afford these, so the street vending of ice cream now accompanied by cones grew enormously. In 1912, Frederick Bruckman devised a machine that rolled the cones hot from the waffle iron automatically; 245 million ice cream cones were sold in 1924 alone.
Three main dry ingredients compose all types of cones. Wheat flour, tapioca flour, and sugar are chosen for baking quality, strength, and relative sweetness, respectively. Tapioca is made from the cassava plant, which has a starch-like root. The root is processed into the tapioca “pearls” familiar in pudding and also into finely ground flour. The cassava grows only in tropical climates so cone manufacturers import it from South America and Southeast Asia. Manufacturers purchase both tapioca flour and sugar in large bags, but wheat flour is bought by the tanker-truck load and is unloaded by air pressure that blows it from the tanker into storage silos. During World War II, wheat flour was needed for priority items like bread; as a substitute, ice cream cone makers used popcorn that was ground to a flour-like consistency.
The quantity of sugar is a major distinguishing feature between cone types. Sugar and waffle cones are made of one-third sugar. Not only does this influence the sweet flavor, but it affects the brown finished color and the crispy texture. Cake cones have less than 5% sugar.
Wet ingredients (and others added with the wet materials) include water, shortening (edible fat or grease), baking powder (a dry ingredient but one that begins to react as soon as it is mixed with water so it is added last to avoid contact with any moisture in the air), coloring, flavoring, and salt. Both the coloring and flavoring are natural products made by outside specialists.
Before any liquid is added, air compressors are again used to mixed these dry ingredients in large coolers. The compressors are computer-controlled to regulate the quantities, and different combinations of ingredients are used to make waffle/sugar cones and cake cones, so separate coolers are used to mix each type. The combined dry ingredients are termed cone filler or cone batter. Some specialty suppliers premix cone filler and sell it to cone bakers.
There are three principal types of ice cream cone; the cake cone (also called a molded or flat-bottomed cone), the waffle cone, and the sugar cone. The waffle cone is characterized by a rough or unfinished top edge. The sugar cone is made with the same ingredients and process as a waffle cone but has a finished top edge and sometimes a chocolate lining.
The waffle pattern on all types of cones, the finished edge of the sugar cone, and the shape of the flat-bottomed cone (as well as comet varieties of the cake cone) greatly influence the ease with which the finished cones pop out of their molds. Cone designers refine the waffle pattern and other shape characteristics and make trial batches to find the best design that releases from the mold without burning, breaking, or creating weak spots that won’t hold ice cream or will break when the scoop is applied. The molded cone has a lip around the top that keeps drips contained inside the cone. The row of teeth helps firmly seat the scoop of ice cream and provides added strength where the upper lip of the cone meets the cylindrical base.
The flat bottom of the cake cone is now an accepted industry standard, but it was not invented until the late 1940s. Before this, cake cones were also cone shaped, but Joseph Shapiro of the Maryland Cup Corporation (later the Ace Baking Company) made the flat base especially for the Diary Queen chain. Filling cone-shaped cones and handing them to customers is a two-handed business, but the flat-bottomed cone stands on its own and can be filled more easily.
Shapes and patterns also affect baking characteristics. The finished cone should be uniform in color as well as shiny on the outside. It should bake uniformly so that all sides (including the flat bottom) are thoroughly cooked. The size is important because cones are expected to hold single, double, and triple scoops. The first scoop has to fill the cone and weight the bottom without vanishing completely into the cone, and the third scoop should not overpower the cone and cause it to break or tip too easily. The filled cone should look equally appetizing whether it has one, two, or three flavors atop it.
Strength is an important characteristic, not only to the consumer who holds it. Cones must withstand prefilling in the factory if they are used for frozen treats like the Drumstick. Unfilled cones have to be packed together by mechanical devices. The cones must “nest” (fit one inside another) neatly to allow efficient packing. Minimal packing materials are used to cushion the cones, mainly because of cost.
Taste is the key design factor. Cake cones should be crisp instead of spongy and tasty like a mild cereal. Waffle cones should be crunchy and sweet but not too hard or over-powering in sugar content. The ice cream is the featured food, and the cone must complement its quality.
The Manufacturing Process
1. The batter for all cones is mixed in large vat-like mixers and stored in coolers. Air compressors blow the dry ingredients into the mixers. Separate mixers and coolers are used to combine and store the batter for cake cones and for waffle and sugar cones together. The air compressors that pump in all ingredients are computer-controlled so the recipe for each cone is correct. Computers also control all the other machines in the factory; in the mixing area, they tell the compressors when the coolers are running low on batter, so the next batch is mixed automatically.
2. As the dry ingredients are blown in, water is added, and the mixers begin to stir the batter. The dry ingredients and water are mixed for nine minutes before the other ingredients are added. The computer signals to a worker when the nine-minute mix is done, and the worker inspects the partial batter then adds the remaining ingredients by hand. This is one of the few hands-on parts of the process; it is essential to the character and quality of the finished cones. The worker resets the mixer when the ingredients have been added, and the mixer beats the batter for a few minutes at high speed, not only for perfect blending but to add just the right amount of air to the batter. The mixer for cake cones yields about 300 lb (112 kg) of batter, and the waffle/sugar cone batter is mixed in 150-lb (56-kg) batches. The mixed batter is then pumped to its cooler; the mixer shuts itself off automatically and resets itself for the next batch.
3. From the coolers, batter is pumped to storage tanks next to the baking ovens. It is then pumped through a pipe. Cake-cone batter is pumped into the cake-cone molds, and waffle/sugar-cone batter flows onto plates much like the bottom plates of waffle irons. The pumping system applies a pre-measured amount of batter to either the mold or the plate. The cake cones bake for about 90 seconds and emerge in their finished shape and ready to be packed. Waffle and sugar cones bake for about 82 seconds, but they take longer to finish because they have to be shaped. The flat, hot, baked circles are rolled into cone shapes by specialized cone-rolling machines in a process that takes about 20 seconds. These cones cannot be handled for packing until they are completely cooled, and they are air-cooled for 2 minutes. Cooling makes the cones firm to hold their shape.
A large cone-making plant will be equipped with as many as 40 ovens that will produce 5 million cones per day. The plants usually operate 24 hours per day and every day of the year except significant holidays. Total production from a major manufacturer can be 5 billion cones per year.
4. Finished cones travel along conveyors to the packing area. Cake cones are relatively strong and are nested inside each other, wrapped with clear paper that is sealed to be air tight, and placed in boxes. Waffle and sugar cones are crisp and delicate, so each one is individually packed in a Styrofoam container with a bottom bowl and a lid (a “clamshell” container). These packages are also boxed. All boxes have been preprinted by an outside printer and box manufacturer. The outer design is not only decorative but carries the nutritional information required by the United States government for a single-cone serving. The boxes are bulk-packed into larger cartons called master packs for shipping and distribution.
Some boxed cones are sent to the dairy-pack industry which fills the cones with chocolate liners and ice cream, freezes their products, and repackages them for individual sale and bulk sale in boxes in grocery stores. The best known of the dairy-pack products are probably Drumstick and Nutty Buddy. Boxed cones are also distributed to food service businesses like Dairy Queen, Baskin-Robbins, and McDonalds. These businesses (like the dairy-pack trade) fill cones individually with their own ice cream and soft-serve products. Amusement parks are also part of the food service business that fills cones with frozen treats on the spot.
Finally, packaged cones are sold in bulk to retail businesses like grocery, chain, convenience, and drug stores. These retailers usually do not fill or modify the cones; they sell the boxed cones directly to the consumer who can make custom desserts and snacks with the cones at home.
Although cone-making is computer-controlled, workers are essential to quality control. The correct addition of ingredients is the most obvious quality control step, but throughout the process specially trained quality control inspectors watch cone making and baking, taste-test cones occasionally, and reject any that are misshapen, broken, or over/under-cooked. Whole cones are also removed from the process and cut and broken apart to check that cones are truly perfect inside and out.
Cone makers usually do not produce byproducts although they commonly make the three types of cones. There is some breakage, and some are rejected during the quality control process. During the period from 1920 to about 1950, cone makers bagged the broken cones and sold them as a snack byproduct. Families could buy the broken pieces and eat them like chips or crackers or crush them more finely and use them as toppings for ice cream, pudding, and fruit. During the Depression in the 1930s, crushed cones were a tasty substitute for expensive nut toppings.
As manufacturers’ volumes have increased and crushed cones have become less desired by the public, cone makers have found another use for discarded cones. The cones are ground up and sold to farmers for animal feed. Paper goods from the packaging process and wooden pallets for storage are recycled, so the industry produces virtually no waste.
Safety in the cone factory is also a lesser concern because most processes are fully automated. Workers are trained about safety issues related to electrical and mechanical equipment and the heat of the baking ovens. They are also required to protect the safety of the product and wear clothing, hair covers, and gloves to keep the cones sanitary.
The ice cream cone is such a fixture of worldwide desserts, entertainment, amusement, and relaxation that it is unlikely to fall out of favor. Ice cream and its cone are consumed year-round—with Americans eating about 23 qt (22 L) per person a year—although summer is certainly the prime season. A mark of the acceptance of the ice cream cone may be its stature as a highly recognizable icon or symbol. In 1945, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featured a helium-filled balloon shaped like an triple-scoop ice cream cone. It stood 40 ft (12.2 m) high and 16 ft (4.9 m) wide. Hot-air balloon races and festivals have also been treated with scoop-shaped hot-air balloons and cone-shaped baskets. In 1962, the Swedish-born sculptor Claes Oldenburg displayed a Pop-art version of a “Store” filled with everyday objects that were greatly oversized and made of foam rubber covered with canvas. Oldenburg chose an enormous ice cream cone to represent American life.
The tried-and-true types of cones are not likely to change. Of course, manufacturers are constantly improving their products, but they stick to the varieties that are popular with the public. The sugar, waffle, and cake cones perfectly complement the changing flavors within the ice cream world while adding their own support, taste, crunch, and sense of tradition.
Where to Learn More
Dickson, Paul. The Great American Ice Cream Book. New York: Atheneum, 1972.
Liddell, Caroline, and Robin Weir. Frozen Desserts. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.
Wardlaw, Lee. We All Scream for Ice Cream. New York: Harper Trophy, Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc., 2000.
Belleranti, Shirley W. “A treat from Marco Polo.” Hopscotch 8, no. 2 (August/September 1996): 9.
Gustaitis, Joseph. “Who Invented the Ice Cream Cone?” American History Illustrated 23, no. 4, (Summer 1988): 42-45.
Dairy Queen Corporation. http://www.dairyqueen.com (January 2001).
The Joy Cone Company, Hermitage, PA. http://www.joycone.com (January 2001).
— Gillian S. Holmes
Source: “Ice Cream Cone”. How Products Are Made. Volume 6
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