We’ve been blessed by a relatively mild spring and summer to this point, but Paducah has finally begun to swelter in true Ohio Valley fashion. Temperatures in the 90’s are expected all week, and with the arrival of a such a hot spell, one’s mind can’t help but wander toward things cooler—swimming pools, gentle breezes, frosty beverages, and, of course…
We approached today’s post with the hope of finding out a little bit about the history of ice cream in Paducah. The popularity of ice cream, like the settlement of Paducah, rose in prominence throughout the 1800’s, so we thought for sure that we’d find an amusing anecdote or two about the frozen confection in some of the early editions of The Paducah Sun.
But we found a scant few, however. For instance, as early as 1897, a drug store in Paducah called Soules took out a daily ad in The Sun to advertise their ice cream flavors: chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and orange. Brief notices of ice cream socials and ice cream suppers dotted the community listings, particularly among women’s groups and church functions. There are even a couple references at the turn of the 20th century to “diplomatic ice cream” being served at fancy dinner parties, a dessert made of layers of ice cream, rum-soaked ladyfingers, and diced fruit.
While these mentions of ice cream are pleasant enough, they are only mildly interesting and hardly worthy of a whole story. But then we ran across a headline from an August 1, 1910 Paducah Sun which read, “Ice Cream Cone To Be Analyzed.”
Our interest immediately peaked.
The article went further to state, “At a meeting of the board of health this afternoon…Dr. S.Z. Holland, city health officer, was authorized to procure an ice cream cone, against which a national fight is now being made, and have it analyzed to ascertain the ingredients. The analysis will probably be made by Dr. G.C. McKinney at the Illinois Central Railroad Hospital and should it result in improper materials being used the board will prohibit their future sale here.”
This sounds a bit like a kneejerk reaction by city officials. To ban a beloved food based on the testing of a single cone seems a little extreme. Yet, when the Paducah Sun article said that the ice cream cone was in the midst of a “national fight,” they weren’t kidding.
Throughout the U.S., the ice cream cone was under attack.
For all intents and purposes, the ice cream cone in America was only 6 years in 1910, having been introduced to a wide audience at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. With over 50 vendors at the Fair and millions of visitors trying them out, the popularity of the ice cream cone skyrocketed. As such, many tried to cash in the cone’s immediate success, and with federal food regulation in its infancy, the cone was a prime target for some shady practices.
Between the years of 1905 and 1910, illnesses and deaths attributed to contaminated ice cream cones were reported in newspapers throughout the country. Finally, in 1910, the federal government stepped in. Under the authority of Bureau of Chemistry in the Department of Agriculture and the new laws enabled by the recent passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act (the predecessor to the FDA), ice cream cones started to be tested and regulated, and if they were found to be faulty, they were seized. On July 9, 1910, regulators apprehended 4.5 million ice cream cones from a New York harbor. Affected cones were found to contain sawdust, clay, shavings, wrapping paper, and boric acid.
No wonder then that Paducah officials got a little leery.
Surely when the announcement came on August 1, 1910 that ice cream cones were to be analyzed and possibly discontinued in Paducah, the entire citizenry waited with sugary-bated breath to know whether they’d still be able to consume their delectable cylinders. They had to wait exactly 9 days for the results. On August 10, 1910, The Paducah Sun published the findings. According to Dr. G.C. McKinney, the cones “contained a mixture of sugar and a combination of protein and starch—probably wheat flour cooked. No clay or other foreign substances were found. The cones are not adulterated as chemists have found the cones sold in the large cities.”
The ice cream cones were safe to eat! And all of Paducah must have sighed with relief until they read the article a little further. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) Dr. McKinney had not only tested the cones, he had also tested their contents…the ice cream itself. Said the article, “The ice cream with which they [the cones] are filled is of the cheapest quality. The contents of the cones is not ice cream at all, but a mixture of water, gelatin, and starch sweetened and flavored. The stuff is about equal in nutrition to a mixture of one-tenth milk and nine-tenths water.”
While the cone was fine, the cream left much to be desired, so much so that the examiner stated that the ingredients were “not recommended as food for children.” Thus, the exonerated cone ended up losing after all for the paper speculated that steps would be taken to stop the sale of all cones in the city unless better ingredients were used in the cream.
To learn more about sweet treats and bitter defeats, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.