Ithaca, NY: Home of the Ice Cream Sundae
Birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae
Documenting Ithaca as the Home of the Ice Cream Sundae
Hot dogs, hamburgers, apple pie, ice cream cones—Americans have debated the origins of these iconic foods for decades. In most cases, historical records don't exist to prove or disprove the local origins of our favorite treats. One notable exception is the invention of the ice cream sundae.
Ithaca, an area long known as a dining hotspot, has extensive history and documentation supporting the ice cream sundae's creation here in 1892. The information is so specific, the city can almost pinpoint the exact hour the first ice cream "Sunday" was served. While other cities may claim the sundae, none can support its claim with primary evidence. This gives Ithaca title to the first documented ice cream sundae in the United States.
What Makes an Ice Cream Sundae?
Food historians are quite certain that Americans served ice cream with toppings prior to the 1890s. But the combination only became a sundae when somebody viewed the completed dish as new and unique—distinct enough in preparation, presentation and taste to be worthy of a special name. That's exactly what happened in Ithaca in 1892.
Who Invented the Ice Cream Sundae?
On Sunday afternoon, April 3,1892, after services at the Unitarian Church, Reverend John M. Scott paid his usual visit to the Platt & Colt Pharmacy in downtown Ithaca. Shop proprietor, Chester C. Platt, was church treasurer and he met often with Scott for conversation after services. Seeking refreshment for himself and the reverend, Platt asked his fountain clerk, DeForest Christiance, for two bowls of ice cream. But instead of serving the reverend plain vanilla, Platt took the bowls and topped each with cherry syrup and a candied cherry. The finished dish looked delightful and tasted delicious—so much so that the men felt obliged to name the new creation. After some debate, Scott suggested that it be named for the day it was created. Platt concurred and the first "Cherry Sunday" was born.
Ithaca's Sundae Story: Fact or Fiction?
Local folklore or historic fact? What makes Ithaca's ice cream sundae story unique is the surprising evidence discovered to support the claim. But decide for yourself. Just follow the clues.
Other Cities, Other Claims
Could the ice cream sundae have been created earlier in another city? It's certainly possible, but without historical documentation, such claims are pure conjecture. A half-dozen American cities claim ownership of the sundae, but none has proof. Among the competing cities, Two Rivers, Wisconsin, has the longest-standing counterclaim. It has sparred with Ithaca in a good-natured "Sundae War" for several decades.
Two Rivers' Story
A Wisconsin State Historical Society marker in downtown Two Rivers contends that the first sundae was served there at Ed Berners' soda fountain in 1881. A recreation of Berners' fountain is still in business and Two Rivers celebrates its local story with a "Sundae Thursday" celebration each June. Two Rivers' claim is based on an interview Berners conducted with a local newspaper reporter in 1929. Though the interview does not indicate the date Berners began serving sundaes, the city steadfastly promotes 1881. The claim is unlikely. Wisconsin birth records indicate Berners was 17-years-old in 1881 and unlikely to have been operating a soda fountain business. Furthermore, Berners' obituary in 1939 dates his first sundae to about 1900.
Copies of the original documents presented here are on display for public review at the History Center in Tompkins County. Visit TheHistoryCenter.Net for more information.
"Two Rivers, Puh-leeze" — Ithaca's Sundae Love Song to Two Rivers
An oversized historic marker in Two Rivers, Wisc., claims (mistakenly) that Ed Berners created the first sundae there in 1881. The city even sang about it in a sundae fight song delivered to Ithaca in 2006. Ithaca returned the favor in 2007 with a sundae "love song" to Two Rivers, entitled "Two Rivers, Puh-leeze."
"Two Rivers, Puh-leeze"
Two Rivers, why live in denial,
The story you compile, won't play.
Your sign maker, a truth faker,
without sundae proof your claim's melting away.
Ed Berners off to fool the world.
There's such a lot of fools you see.
Though sometimes the truth may offend-
still you can pretend,
my sweet Wisconsin friend,
Special thanks to:
Ithaca recording artists, "Rock Beats Paper"
Arrangement: Robert Dietz
Engineering: James Cannon/Panic Room Studios