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La Crosse, WI
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July 20, 2024 12:56 pm

Local News

The Ice Cream Wars: The Origin of the Ice Cream Sundae


Reinette LeJeune

In Two Rivers, located in the northeast section of the state, a Wisconsin Historical Marker can be found within its Central Park which claims the area as the birthplace of the ice cream sundae. According to the marker, a local named George Hallauer strolled into a soda fountain on 15th Street in 1881 asking the owner, Edward Berner, to top a dish of ice cream with chocolate sauce – a product until then was solely reserved for ice cream sodas – creating a new concoction that would soon become an American staple. Having gained some popularity with residents, Berner began selling the new treat for a nickel, but only on Sundays.

As time passed a young 10-year-old girl visited during a weekday and insisted on having the dish of ice cream “with that stuff on top.” Berner denied her request citing his once-a-week rule until the girl charmed him with the suggestion that they “pretend it was Sunday.” Soon after, Berner began selling the dish every day of the week – and in many flavors. 

The unusual, and now timeless, spelling of the dessert soon followed. A salesman stopped in one day to try Berner’s new dish, and soon after an order with his glassware company was put down requesting “sundae dishes” with an “e” at the end rather than a “y,” and the rest was history. Or at least, that’s what the marker claims. 

Two Rivers is not without its rivals, however, as a quick search through Google will reveal several establishments challenging the city’s claim. The loudest challenge has come from Ithaca, NY, which cites a 19th century newspaper ad for a locally served sundae. In a New York Times article on the dispute, Ithaca’s mayor sneered at Two Rivers, saying, “We have the historical documents, and they don’t.” Two Rivers, refusing to back down, passed a resolution demanding that Ithaca “cease and desist” with its sundae slanders. Residents also overwhelmed Ithaca’s mayor with postcards picturing the Wisconsin Historical Marker in defense. 

We may never know the truth, despite both cities to this day – and others like them – being locked in heated arguments over the true birthplace of this sweet delight. Regardless of where your opinion may fall along the creamy battlements of this topic, we can all at least agree that the sundae is one of the best inventions of American sweet tooth ingenuity.