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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Sundae Sermon

The desire to be "first" seems to be part of human nature. Here in Wisconsin, the Manitowoc Co. city of Two Rivers has long claimed to be the birthplace of the ice cream sundae, citing local oral tradition of its invention at Berner's Ice Cream Parlor in 1881. But Ithaca, N.Y., also claims the distinction, and can point to an 1892 newspaper advertisement as proof. Several other places around the country also argue the ice cream sundae was invented in their town.

The New York Times investigated these claims in 2006 and in a marvelously good-humored article explained that the question ultimately comes down to a definition of what defines a sundae -- the chocolate over ice cream (Two Rivers, 1881) or the cherry on top (Ithaca, 1892).

The controversy is nicely summed up, with links to relevant sources, in the Internet Scout Report (a weekly news service you should certainly subscribe to if you want to keep up with the best Web sites).

Like every historical question, resolving the first sundae controversy lies in how one answers the two fundamental questions asked by historians: "what, precisely do you mean?" and "how do you know?" And, of course, in how well one employs critical thinking to gather and interpret evidence.

If you're a teacher, maybe you could use this controversy as a way to teach kids how to think like a historian -- with a free sundae going to the creators of the best-researched and best-argued presentations.

:: Posted in Curiosities on August 25, 2010

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