Sundae School

Tracing the history of one of America's favorite desserts

In case you missed it, Sunday was the 119th anniversary of the ice cream sundae.

To mark the event, Google decorated its homepage with a drawing—I categorically refuse to say “google doodle”—of a double-scooped sundae, covered with whipped cream, nuts and cherries, and served in an old-fashioned sundae dish.


Not nearly as sweet is the gastro-provenance of the American sundae. When and where the perfect marriage of ice cream and topping was consummated is very much in dispute, as is the origin of the name itself.

According to (the official website of the ice cream sundae), the honor belongs to drugstore proprietor Chester C. Platt of Ithaca, NewYork, who in a fit of whimsy on Sunday, April 3, 1892, served a scoop of vanilla ice cream doused with cherry syrup and topped by a candied cherry.

He called it Cherry Sunday, an homage to the day on which it was created. Legend has it that the word became “sundae” after he and his partner were unsuccessful in securing a trademark for “Sunday.”

Two Rivers, Wisconsin; and Plainfield, Illinois, also lay claim to being the birthplace of sundaes, as do Buffalo, New York; and Norfolk, Virginia.

Ithaca, however, is generally accepted as Ice Cream Sundae, USA. (Fun Fact: Cornell’s celebrated Agriculture School was established there in 1888, four years before “Sundae School.” Wonder if they swapped butterfat.)

Some historians say the cholesterol-fueled concoction was created in response to “Blue Laws” that banned the sale of  “sinful” ice cream sodas on Sundays. To get around the ordinance, stores began selling ice cream sodas, minus the soda, and covered with syrup.

As sales expanded beyond the Sabbath, “Sunday soda” morphed to Sundae.

To tell you the truth, I am eternally grateful that whoever created the ice cream sundae did it on a Sunday. Can you imagine ordering a hot fudge saturdae or a strawberry wednesdae? Too ridiculous to contemplate, even with whipped cream and peanuts.

Me, I’ll take sundae any day of the week. Amen.