The Contested Origin of the Ice Cream Sundae

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A number of cities across America lay claim to the frosty treat, but two cities have fought decades for the title.

Who would have thought that ice cream sundaes would have such a contentious history?

Going back over 100 years, cities across the country have claimed ownership to the origin of the all-American treat, but two cities, in particular, have been battling it out for decades: Ithaca, New York and Two Rivers, Wisconsin. 

While cities including New Orleans, Buffalo, Cleveland, and New York City, have their own sundae origin stories, residents of Ithaca and Two Rivers aren't buying any of it. Residents of both locales believe that their cities are the rightful birthplace of the frosty dish, but what do you believe?

The stories go like this:

In 1892, in Ithaca, pharmacy owner Chester Platt served his local minister, John Scott, a dish of vanilla ice cream covered with cherry syrup and candied cherries, calling it the "Cherry Sunday" in honor of the day it was made. A few days later on April 5, 1892, Platt ran an ad in the Ithaca Daily Journal advertising his new creation. By 1894, Platt's "Sundays" became so popular that he tried to trademark the term.

Over in Wisconsin, it's believed that a customer asked Berners' Soda Fountain owner, Edward C. Berners, to drizzle chocolate syrup over his ice cream, back in 1881. The treat was a success, so Berners started selling the dish for a nickel, originally on Sundays, but later every day. When Berners died, the Chicago Tribune ran his obituary with the headline, "Man Who Made First Ice Cream Sundae Is Dead."

Dating back to the 1970s, the two cities have traded barbs related to their respective sundae stories, according to The New York Times. Neither is willing to give up their claim as the home of the first ice cream sundae, and they each believe that they have proof. 

Two Rivers proudly displays an historical marker in one of their parks, declaring their right to the sundae birth story. But residents in Ithaca believe that they have something more concrete, the ad placed by Platt in his local paper. According to The History Center of Tompkins County, New York, the ad is the first written documentation of the sundae in the world. 

There's also another snafu to Two Rivers' story, the fact that the obituary for Berners in the Chicago Tribune states that his first sundae was served in 1899, not 1881, which makes it second to Ithaca's.

While we may never know, exactly, where the sundae got its start, it's safe to say that we're all just glad it was invented in the first place.