Hoboken is its birthplace, and its inventor was my father.
Ice cream as we know it dates back nearly 200 years, but an edible cup in which ice cream could be served was first created by my Italian immigrant father, Italo Marcioni. (He Americanized the spelling of his name to "Marchiony.") In 1903, he patented the first machine to mass-produce ice cream cups and commenced manufacturing them.
His firm, I. Marchiony, Inc., thrived at 219 Grand St. in Hoboken, where millions of ice cream cones and wafers were made "in a sunlight plant" until it was destroyed by fire on May 16, 1934.
The saga began in 1895 when Italo arrived from Italy. He sold lemon ices and ice cream from a push cart on Wall Street, serving small liquor glasses containing his confections to stockbrokers and Wall Street runners. But too many glasses broke or were taken, and washing them was a chore.
That's when Father had his inspiration: serve the ice cream in a cup that could be eaten along with the ice cream! There would be no washing, no waste.
So he baked waffles, and while they were still warm, folded them into the shape of a cup. His customers loved the cups - they were convenient, sanitary and tasty.
So popular was Father's waffle cup, that there was a Wall Street boom in his ice cream sales. Soon he had a chain of 45 carts operated by men he hired. Ice cream in his cup became known as a "toot," possibly derived from the Italian tutti or "all," since customers were urged to "eat it all."
But hand-made cups couldn't keep up with the demand. Father had a good head for mechanics as well as for business, so he adapted the design of the waffle iron to create a device into which batter could be poured, baked and so mass-produce ice cream cups.
It was difficult to take the fragile cups out of the mold without their breaking. He solved the problem by dividing the bottom half of the mold, to separate it from the baked cups. And instead of one mold for each cup, he arranged two rows of five in each mold to produce 10 cups at a time.
When Father sold his "toots," ice cream vendors were a familiar sight on city sidewalks. Children called them "hokey pokey" men, a corruption of their cry, Ecco un pocco - "Here's a little" in Italian.
Father applied for a patent on his device in 1902 and it was awarded in 1903, U.S. Patent number 746,971. In 1904, he established a wholesale ice cream and candy business in Hoboken, operating a fleet of horse-drawn wagons to supply retailers all over the metropolitan area.
From cup to cone at Expo
Legend has it that serving ice cream in an edible dish originated at the Louisiana Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis. It is said that a man with a waffle concession came to the rescue of an ice cream vendor in the next booth by rolling a waffle into a cone to meet a shortage of dishes.
What actually happened was that my father was among the exhibitors, selling ice cream in his patented cups. He could make the ice cream fresh every day, but the cups had to be brought from Hoboken, and he ran out. That was when he turned to the waffle maker in the next booth and asked him to roll the waffles into the next best thing to a cup - a cone.
Because of its success at the exposition, the idea of an edible ice cream container was spread all over the country.
Not wanting to get into the machinery business, Italo made no effort to sell his molding machines to other manufacturers. Instead, he built up an extensive trade in bulk orders for the fragile, delicious cones themselves. Children adored them - as they still do - but some adults felt undignified to be seen licking an ice cream cone in public, so Father developed ice cream sandwich wafers in the form of clam shells, fish, and bananas, as well as simple rectangles.
Italo Marchiony continued in business until his retirement in 1938, and died in 1954 at the age of 86. The Marchiony brand of ice cream was sold to Schrafft's.
Marchiony's advertising proudly and properly identified him as "the oldest manufacturer of ice cream cones and wafers." And Italo Marchiony of Hoboken, my immigrant father, became the founder of a great American institution: the ice cream cone.
Editor's note: A full version of this column was originally printed in Hoboken History Issue No. 2, published by the Hoboken Historical Museum. Please visit the museum at 1301 Hudson St. for more information. To read past columns from this year-long series, visit www.hobokenreporter.com.