The Weird Reason Ice Cream Sundaes Got Started

What could be more innocent than the perennial summertime treat, the ice cream sundae? Well, it turns out that all that delicious sweetness has a slightly shady past. Per Farmers' Almanac, the origin of the ice cream sundae is linked to dodging late 1800s blue laws. As defined by Britannica, the "blue laws" were laws that existed in the colonial United States that forbade certain secular activities on Sundays. They are possibly named for Samuel A. Peter's book "General History of Connecticut." Published in 1781, it "purported to list the stiff Sabbath regulations at New Haven, Connecticut" and was printed on blue paper. 

One blue law forbade the sale of "sucking sodas," which apparently some religious groups thought inappropriate in general but particularly on Sundays. At this time, ice cream sodas were extremely trendy and brought lots of business to pharmacy counters, which were also functioning as soda fountains. In order to keep selling ice cream on Sundays, pharmacists needed a work-around to offer ice cream without the addition of "sucking sodas."

When did ice cream Sundays become "ice cream sundaes"?

The work-around involved replacing the soda found in root beer floats and the like with chocolate sauce, which created a treat that dispensed with the need to suck through straws, as the new confections relied instead on spoons. As they were specifically invented to consume on Sundays, they were named after their day of the week. When and why did the spelling go from "Sunday" to "sundae"? Per the Farmers' Almanac, the explanations range from the new spelling coming from Evanston, Illinois in the 1890s to pacifying devout Christians who didn't appreciate the use of "Sunday" in this manner to encouraging people to eat the ice cream treats any day, not just Sundays. 

Naturally, several cities claim to be the birthplace of the ice cream sundae. The competition is particularly intense between Ithaca, New York, and Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Roadside America reports that Two Rivers claims that in 1881, a local man named George Hallauer asked druggist Ed Berner to replace soda water with chocolate sauce. In 1973, the town placed a historical marker commemorating the sundae and celebrates Ice Cream Sundae Thursday every July. The original soda fountain still exists in a local museum. Meanwhile, Ithaca touts its "primary evidence" on the Visit Ithaca site: an ad for a "Cherry Sunday" from the April 5, 1882 edition of the Ithaca Daily Journal. The "10 cent ice cream specialty" available at Platt & Colt's "famous night and day soda fountain" is thought to be "the first documented ice cream sundae in the United States."