Myths about the 1904 World’s Fair

I just spent some time over at Wikipedia attempting to demolish the myths that the ice cream cone, hot dog, and hamburger were invented in St. Louis at the 1904 World’s Fair. Hey, one does lots of things when there’s a big pile of stuff needing to be done that one would rather neglect.
The ice cream cone was independently invented in England in the 1880s and New York City in 1896 (the NYC inventor even held a patent on it, dating from December 1903). Perhaps the stories about a vendor running out of bowls and grabbing a Syrian waffle-like pastry and wrapping it up to put ice cream in, and the story of an ice cream sandwich vendor watching someone take the top off an ice cream sandwich and wrap it into a cone, and about a baker imitating with bread the paper and metal cones used in France are all true. Maybe three or four St. Louisans did independently invent the ice cream cone. (I heard today that all myths are true.) But even if they did, they weren’t the first.

The first example of prior art on the hot dog dates back to 64 A.D. The first example of prior art on the hot dog bun dates back to New York City around 1860. A St. Louisan supposedly invented the hot dog bun in the early 1880s (the story goes that a vendor, selling red hots, would loan white gloves to his customers, who then all too often walked off with the gloves. So his brother-in-law, a baker, baked him long dinner rolls to put the red hots in). And in another example of prior art in St. Louis itself, by 1893, the eccentric Christian Frederick Wilhelm Von der Ahe, owner of the St. Louis Browns, was selling hot dogs at Sportsman’s Park. (Whether his intent was to make his patrons thirsty and drink more beer, or to give them something else to keep them from thinking about the horrendous team he was putting on the field is open to speculation.)

The case for the hamburger on a bun is just as weak. But Wikipedia’s response times are down. Examples of prior art: 1885 in Wisconsin, 1885 in Hamburg, New York, and 1891 in Hamburg, Germany.

I don’t doubt that the 1904 World’s Fair made all three of these things much more popular. But it’s an awfully big stretch to say any of them were invented here.

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