Italo Marchiony was tired of washing dishes.
He sold lemon ice from a push cart in New York City during the late 1800s. Time in soap and water took Marchiony away from serving his sweets. Broken dishes cut into his profits.
Paper cones eliminated sink and sweep time, but Italo found he was always picking up discarded paper from the pavement. The final solution was edible cones — a novel way to serve lemon ice and ice cream.
Gail Damerow tells the story in her 1991 book “Ice Cream! The Whole Scoop.” She wrote that while some ice cream historians believe cold cones started in Europe, the innovations didn’t really catch on in America until the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
“It was an edible container that could be taken almost anywhere,” wrote Ann Cooper Funderburg, in her 1995 book “Chocolate, Strawberry and Vanilla, a History of American Ice Cream.” “No longer did patrons have to eat their ice cream at the soda fountain or near the hokey pokey man.”
Cones were just the beginning. Many people now spend their summers with a beach ball in one hand and a Fudgsicle, Creamsicle, ice cream sandwich, strawberry shortcake stick or toasted almond stick in the other. They’re portable ice creams — known as novelties in the ice cream business.
Hand-held ice creams are all Brian Collis sells. His 68-truck fleet of Mr. Ding-a-Ling ice cream trucks gives kids and their parents all they can handle during the summer months. Some of the old favorites are no longer around, such as the 1960s’ Buried Treasure — raspberry ice cream on a plastic stick with a clown, cowboy, baseball player or other character hidden in the ice cream.
“I haven’t seen those since the 1970s,” Collis said. “If you got a monkey, you got a free ice cream.”
Novelty ice cream today includes frozen versions of childhood heroes, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Spider-Man, Batman, Dora the Explorer and Scooby Doo.
Collis said ice cream truck business is good. “I’ve been doing this since 1973, and it’s not like a fad that comes and goes. The worse the economy is, the better it is for us because people stay home. When it’s a boom time, people go away.”
Some sales are tied to pop culture. Spider-Man is more popular than usual because the comic book superhero is currently licking bad guys at the movies. Collis expects a surge in Batman ice cream once the latest bat film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” shows up in theaters on Friday.
Tom Mailey, director of marketing for Stewart’s Shops, said ice cream cones, sundaes and novelties such as ice cream sandwiches surge in popularity during the warmer weather. He believes people prefer ice cream that’s easier to carry during July and August.
“I think you’re more mobile in the summer; you’re on the go more,” Mailey said, adding that one hand for a cone or an ice cream novelty frees the other hand for cellphone or other options.
People can buy Popsicles, ice cream sandwiches and all manner of ice cream novelties in the supermarket. Here are some stories behind the products:
• Frank Epperson invented the Popsicle by accident. In 1905, the 11-year-old left a mixture of powdered soda, water and a stirring stick in a cup on his porch. According to Popsicle historians, the whole works froze overnight. Frank treated his friends at school and later his children to his “Epsicle.” The kids kept calling the frozen fruits “Pop’s ‘sicle,” so Epperson changed the name and applied for a patent in 1923. The twin Popsicle was invented during the Great Depression, so two children could share an ice pop for a nickel. Chocolate and orange flavors showed up in fudge and cream versions of Frank’s invention.
• Eskimo Pies became America’s first chocolate-covered ice cream bar in 1920 when Iowa confectioner Christian Kent Nelson invented a way to stick melted chocolate to ice cream. According to Smithsonian Institution archives, cocoa butter proved the perfect adherent. Nelson later teamed up with chocolate maker Russell Stover; the men sold their first 250,000 pies in 24 hours.
• Harry Burt borrowed a little bit of the Eskimo Pie formula. But he put his chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick. Burt called his products “Good Humor” for the belief that a person’s “humor,” or temperament, was related to his or her sense of taste. The products were sold in push carts and trucks. By the 1960s, according to the company, the 85 Good Humor products included the popular chocolate eclair, strawberry shortcake and toasted almond ice creams.
Laura Weiss, author of the new “Ice Cream: A Global History,” said Fudgicles and similar products do better in the hot weather.
“Novelties like ice cream sandwiches, Popsicles and Good Humor bars mean summer,” she said. “The fact that they’re portable is definitely part of their appeal. So is the fact that they’re mounted on a stick. That way you can, sort of, keep your fingers from getting sticky from the dripping ice cream.”
Ice cream that came from push carts often was sold in cities to people who didn’t have big bank accounts. Penny prices kept them coming back
“Until that point, ice cream, which was really expensive to make because cream and sugar were costly, was only for the rich,” Weiss said. “You can think of hokey pokey vendors as the first Good Humor or Mr. Softee men. There were 4,000 hokey pokey men in New York City at the turn of the century.”
Some novelty manufacturers are changing to accommodate a more health-conscious society. “There are lots of artisanal Popsicles being made today, most with fresh fruits,” Weiss said. “Many are unusual flavors like yogurt and honey or cucumber with various herbs and fruits. These flavors are really inventive, but they’re not particularly new. Ice cream chefs in the late 17th century were making sorbets and ice creams in flavors like pine cone and eggplant.”
New age versions may never replace the old reliables.
“My absolute favorite is the good old ice cream sandwich from the freezer case,” Weiss said. “If you undo the wrapper just a bit and let it melt for a couple of minutes, the vanilla ice cream becomes a little soft and melts into the chocolate cookies.”