Tag: Food

A CRACK IN THE CONE: The Great Paducah Ice Cream Probe of 1910

ice cream 4

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.


Soules Ice Cream, Paducah

Soules Ice Cream, Paducah

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.


–Matt Jaeger


Do It Yourself

Do It Yourself

BETWEEN THE BUNS: A Short History of the Hamburger in Paducah

Photo is not of a Paducah hamburger stand, but one similar to those found at the turn of the 20th century.

Photo is not of a Paducah hamburger stand, but one similar to those found at the turn of the 20th century.

March 28 was National Hamburger Day.

Let the rejoicing begin.

We who work in the Local and Family History Department are quite fond of our hamburgers (so much so that they are often times a matter of debate and salivation behind the desk). Thus, it only stands to reason that on this glorious holiday we should spend a little time researching Paducah’s history with this beacon of foods.

Hamburger steaks have likely been around as long as people figured out how to mince beef. The emergence of the hamburger steak between two slices of bread, however, looks to be an invention of the late 19th or early 20th century. Several lay claim to the creation of the sandwich from a county fair in Wisconsin to a street vendor in Texas to a German cook in New York who was trying to recreate a popular sailors’ lunch from his homeland. Though we may not be able to figure out exactly who invented the hamburger as we know it today, all the early claims fall between the years of 1895 and 1904.

There are a few references to hamburger steaks in editions of The Paducah Sun from the late 1800’s, but the earliest mention of a proprietor serving something just called “a hamburger” was in 1902. Sam Gott, a saloon owner and restaurateur, owned a few businesses in Paducah yet his flagship establishment was located on North Fourth Street. He advertised his lunch specials daily in The Sun, and his early fare included Pork & Turnips, Rabbit, Veal, Barbecued Spring Lamb, and Turtle Soup. Long about 1902, and several times a week thereafter Mr. Gott started advertising “the best lunch the market affords…go there tonight for a nice hamburger.” As there was no description or recipe, it’s unclear as to whether this meal was the hamburger sandwich as we think of it, though not once did Sam Gott’s advertising ever use the word steak.

Following Mr. Gott’s plate lunch specials in 1902, Paducah seemed to burgeon with street food vendors for the next few years. “Hamburgers and Hot Tamales? Go to Shorty’s on 117 S. Third.” Lem Parker had his hamburger stand on the corner of Broadway and Jefferson at Fourth Street. There were stands all over the city it seems. Next to Weille’s Department Store sat one such stand. It was a prime and well-trafficked area of Broadway, yet that small stand was the victim of an inexplicable Christmas-time crime on December 23, 1904. According to The Sun, at 7:00 that evening, the “hamburger man” was in his small house cooking up his wares when a “drunken farmer” stopped, pulled a large canon cracker from his pants pocket, lit the fuse with his cigar, and threw it under the stand. The hamburger man was unhurt and his stand only suffered a little broken glass. The drunken farmer got away.

Hamburger stands were so popular in this time that the Chief of Police James Collins ordered the vendors to take their food off the streets at night, as the scent of so many hamburgers was driving people indoors while the “plaintive cries of ‘red hot’ almost made many candidates for the asylum.”

While none of the of these stands advertised hamburger steaks, there is still no mention of bread, so it is unclear to this point whether Paducah had yet discovered the joys of the real hamburger. It wasn’t until 1906 that The Paducah Sun first used the phrase hamburger sandwich. Unfortunately the hamburger sandwich wasn’t celebrated in the article. In fact, it was listed as a cause of a shooting. On July 23, 1906, John Mix got into a scuffle with Cicero Anderson at Graham’s Saloon on 9th and Kentucky. Anderson ended up fatally shooting Mix in the abdomen. Said an eyewitness, “The shooting is the result of a quarrel over a pint of whiskey and half a hamburger sandwich.”

A shooting at a saloon.

What a horrible place to stake our hamburger heritage!

However, the mere mention of a “hamburger sandwich” in a police blotter does not establish a precedent. By 1906 we may have had bread included with our hamburgers, but where are the toppings? True hamburgers—note-worthy, historically relevant burgers—must have toppings as well. For that we flash forward to February 1909 and a much more pleasing anecdote again published in the Paducah Sun.

A farmer of meager means approached Lem Parker’s hamburger stand on Fourth and Jefferson. Seeing that hamburgers were only a nickel, he ordered one. Lem, the proprietor, asked the farmer if he wanted onions or pickles. Not knowing any better or thinking he was being misled by a city boy, the farmer said, “Neither. I want a meat hamburger.” Lem then proceeded to construct the sandwich for the naïve farmer—onions, pickles, and meat between slices of bread. In the words of The Sun, “The farmer devoured it with relish.”

That was that farmer’s introduction to the hamburger, and, as far as we know, Paducah’s introduction as well. Our history with the hamburger may be a little sketchy, falling somewhere between 1902 and 1909, but what we do know for absolute sure is that we have a lot of fine burgers in this town now. Just ask us in Local and Family History. We’ve tried them all.

For more about “Food, Glorious Food” or inane, arbitrary holidays, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger