There's something so simple and satisfying about a creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate on top, a cherry, maybe some nuts...and that's it. We can't be the only ones who feel like we're in a 1950s musical when we have an ice cream sundae, right? It's iconic and delicious...but its history is a lot more complicated that you might expect. Why? Because at least two different towns claim to have invented this chilly treat, and to this day they can't agree on which has the true claim to fame.
Our story starts in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.
Here, in a teeny-tiny town 40 miles south of Green Bay, on a Sunday way back in 1881, a soda fountain owner named Ed Berners poured chocolate syrup over a bowl of vanilla ice cream upon request from a customer in town on vacation. Supposedly, Ed didn't expect the concoction to taste good when he served it to the patron, but after trying it, he was hooked. He began selling the specialty treat every Sunday for a nickel, eventually adding other toppings like bananas, nuts, raspberry sauce and puffed rice. He changed the treat from Sunday to "sundae" after a recommendation from a customer, and the rest is history.
It should come as no surprise that the citizens of Two Rivers are pretty darn proud of this invention -- a replica of Ed Berners' soda fountain stands in the town's visitors center to this day, and you can't miss multiple signs around the town boasting it as the "official birthplace" of the ice cream sundae.
Which brings us to Ithaca, New York.
Here, in the token college town of upstate New York, citizens claim that they are the real inventors of the ice cream sundae. As the story goes, on a Sunday in 1892, Reverend John Scott of the Unitarian Church stopped by Platt & Colt Pharmacy for a bowl of ice cream following his Sunday service. The shop's owner, Chester Platt, served the ice cream with cherry syrup and a candied cherry, and when he and the Reverend both approved, he ran with it. He soon started advertising the new dish in the local newspaper, and changed the name to "sundae" as to not cause confusion with Sunday church services.
So who's the real inventor?
That's the real kicker: No one knows. Folks in Ithaca believe that they are because they have a paper trail to back it up. A few years ago, a group of high schoolers dug back in the town's archives and found a newspaper from 1892 with what is believed to be the first advertisement that Platt placed for his sundae.
Despite this, Two Rivers stands by its story by the simple argument that just because they don't have a newspaper saying something happened, doesn't mean it didn't happen.
For years, officials from the two towns have written letters back and forth arguing about their respective bragging rights. Both town websites claim that they are the one true birthplace of the sundae. Each has written songs about their inventions and taunted the other with it. Two Rivers even went so far as to issue a cease-and-desist letter to Ithaca, requesting they stop telling their sundae story. Then, in 1980, Evanston, Illinois also tried to throw its name in the ring for sundae rights, along with a few other towns around the country.
Our thoughts? Two Rivers wins this one. Let's be honest, midwesterners are way too nice to lie about something like this. That Catholic guilt would get them way too fast.