Sunday, February 19, 2023

Squirting Flowers - a Surprising History



If slipping on a banana peels is the most hilarious thing ever, the second most hilarious thing ever may be the squirting flower boutonniere. Banana peel humor is old - dating to at least the 1850s, but not as old as slipping-on-orange-peel humor, which is at least several decades older. (See my earlier post, A Slippery History of the Banana Peel Gag - and the Orange Peel Gag.)

Squirting boutonnieres are not quite so old, but may be older than one might expect. The “Surprise Bouquet” was new in 1881, when an advertisement pronounced it “just out, and the best practical joke of the season.”



Just Out, and the Best Practical Joke of the Season.

This beautiful Button-hole Bouquet is made of Artificial Flowers and Leaves, which so closely resemble natural flowers that not one person in a thousand would detect the difference. After placing the Bouquet in your button-hole you call the attention of a friend to its beauty and fragrance. He will very naturally step forward and smell of it, when to his utter astonishment, a fine stream of water will be thrown into his face. Where the water comes from is a mystery, as you can have your hands at your side or behind you, and not touch the Bouquet in any manner. You can give one dozen or more personas a shower bath without removing the Bouquet from your button-hole, and after the water is exhausted it can be immediately refilled without removing it from your coat. Cologne can be used in place of water when desired. We have many funny things in our stock, but nothing that equals this. . . .



7 Warren Street, New York.

Puck, Volume 9, Number 231, August 10, 1881, page 395.


There is a common misconception that the squirting flower was invented by Soren Sorensen Adams, the inventor of the joy buzzer.i Adams was born in 1880, however, which means he would have had to have been one year old at the time of the invention.

The gag was still going strong a decade and a half later. An article about making “fortunes in patents” claimed it netted annual royalties of $12,000 in 1895.

An automatic funnel was sold for $57,000; a knitting machine has earned millions; a squirt boutonniere brings royalties of $12,000 a year.

Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1895, page 28.

A practical and familiar invention mentioned in the same article is the lemon juicer.

The glass lemon-squeezer, familiar to everybody, is one of the simplest of them all. It has the merit of working well, of being easy to keep clean, and never getting out of order. The purchaser paid $50,000 for it.

Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1895, page 28.


The practical “joke” was just as hilarious in 1916 as it had been in 1881 and still is today.

Heh! Heh! Heh! Wah-he! He!

Why all the merry guffawas, stupid?

We just can’t restrain ourselves from lawfing at the merry antics of the practical joker, he’s so clever and funny.

We think you should be spouting sympathy for this rummy instead of the tickle exhausts. He’s the feeble-minded Luke that wears the trick flower and tells you put your horn down and smell it, then he presses a bulb that squirts rain up in your mush.

He’s the rummy that puts drinking water on the bookkeeper’s chair when he goes to answer the phone. Always has some clever little stunt where his victim is a full-bearded angora, but when somebody changes the act and uses him for the nanny, Oh! His record rattles off thusly: “That’s a dirty trick. I don’t mind a joke, but that ain’t no joke; a joke’s a joke, but that’s dirty,” etc.

The Day Book (Chicago), July 27, 1916, page 17.


Funny or unfunny in real life, Harold Lloyd put the squirting lapel flower to “uproarious” comedic use in his 1932 film, Movie Crazy.


After many quarrels with the leading lady (Constance Cummings), he receives, accidentally, an invitation to one of the major social events. There, a valet gives Harold a magician’s coat by mistake. The scenes that follow are not only funny, they’re uproarious. The coat yields, among other things, a rabbit, an egg with a live chick in it, a water-squirting lapel flower, a mouse, and a white pigeon. . . . In actual tests at Hollywood, this scene drew 17 minutes of continuous laughter - a record.

 Asbury Park Press, August 29, 1932, page 4 (View clip here on YouTube).

But squirting flowers were not all fun and games. In 1939, for example, a twelve-year-old with a squirting flower triggered a chain of events that resulted in a fight, pulled hair, a gunshot, hospitalization and an arrest. It happened on 45th street in Cleveland. “Smell it” she said. What could go wrong?


(By United Press) Cleveland - a tiny pebble, rolling down a mountain, strikes another and thus begins an avalanche. Just so did a heap of trouble descend on East 45th street.

Naomi Devese, 12, began it with one of those trick flowers that squirts water in your face.

“Smell it,” she said to Dorothy Carter, 12. Dorothy smelled it and Naomi squeezed the bulb.

News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), June 24, 1939, page 1.


Dorothy retaliated, Naomi pulled her hair, Naomi’s parents intervened, Dorothy’s uncle Dan (a pistol-packin’ preacher) took aim at Naomi’s father but struck her mother instead, she was hospitalized, and Uncle Dan was hauled off to jail.

Some people just don't have a sense of humor.




i  “The Wet and Wild History of the Water Gun,” Amanda Green,, July 2, 2013. (“1906: Soren Sorenen Adams founds the Cachoo Sneeze Powder Company. The prettiest prank in his bag of tricks: the water-streaming lapel flower.).” The Popular Mechanics article does not come straight out and say he invented the gag, but in the context of the article, placing it in a timeline of the history of the water gun, suggests that he did, or at least that it was invented after the first water gun in 1896. Several accounts posting on the social media site, TWITTER, have unambiguously claimed he invented it.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Chinese Food, Staplers and Oysters - Unboxing the Mani-fold History of the "Chinese" Takeout Container



In February 2023, an international incident involving a surveillance balloon from China prompted some anonymous twitter user to post this meme of a Chinese take-out box suspended by a balloon.


The image plays off the origin of the surveillance balloon in Communist China. But the familiar take-out containers are not from China, Communist or not.

According to Peter Kim, executive director of New York’s Museum of Food and Drink, the box is a “uniquely American Design” and “as American as Apple Pie.”i He agreed with The New York Times Magazine, who had traced the origins of the box to Frederick Weeks Wilcox, of Chicago. Wilcox received a patent for a “Paper Pail” in 1894 (US529053, November 13, 1894).ii

Coincidentally, however, at about the same time the Chinese balloon incident was playing out in the news media, I ran across earlier references to what looked like “Chinese” take-out-style containers from 1882 and 1884.iii I ran across the references while researching the history of ice cream scoopsiv - the paper containers being suited (according to their designers) for packing ice cream. Seeing the meme at about the same time prompted me to dig deeper. A quick search convinced me that I had stumbled across new information. As I dug deeper, a more interesting story unfolded.

The history of “Chinese” take-out box is even more “American” than previously known. It has connections to early American history, as it was invented by a long-serving Vice President of Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, and was patented just in time for the United States’ Centennial in 1876. The story has drama, in-fighting, backstabbing, litigation and corporate squabbles. And it is wide-ranging, touching on the history of other well-known, everyday objects - the stapler, paper cups and motion pictures.

Folded paper boxes made of a single sheet of paper are old. A patent issued in 1874, for example, described boxes “made complete from one piece of material by several folds” as “very old.”v What was new and radical about about the style of box that would later be associated with Chinese take-out was that the arrangement of folds made it basically water-tight, with no seams in the storage compartment where something might leak out.

The earliest patent that embodies the general look and characteristics of the modern take-out box was issued on March 28, 1876 - just in time for the Centennial. The inventor was a man named Henry Renno Heyl, from Philadelphia.

My box is made of a single piece of paper, cut and folded in such shape as to bring all the edges of the paper to the top of the finished box, so that there shall be no incisions in the paper below the top of the box, thus rendering it water-tight.

Heyl also invented the single fastener on either side where a handle might be secured.

I prefer to so proportion the folds and lap them at the sides that a single fastening at each side will serve to secure the folds themselves and a handle or ribbon or other material.

Other than describing the box as “water tight,” Heyl’s original patent did not limit the types of things that might be carried in it, although it did mention its suitability “ice cream, fruit, and most commodities for which the box is specially intended.” Later patents for similar boxes listed things like, “ice cream, oysters, and like substances of semi-fluid character,”vi “berries, oysters, ice-cream, and the like.”vii Paper pails along these lines would eventually be generically referred to as “oyster pails,” regardless of use.

As recognizable as Heyl’s paper box design has become, it is only one of several innovations he had a hand in, and it may not be the most widely known or most important of his accomplishments. Heyl invented the stapler, was president of one of the earliest paper cup companies, and staged the first-ever exhibition of a motion picture.

Henry R. Heyl, of Philadelphia, for many years vice-president of the Franklin Institute, and an inventor of note, was at the Strand on Sunday. Mr. Heyl is the inventor of wire stitching [(staplers)], the first folding box and lately of the paper milk bottle. . . . The Union Paper Cup Co., of Trenton, of which Henry R. Heyl is president, are building a plant at Fernwod, near Trenton . . . .

Five Mile Beach Weekly Journal (Wildwood, New Jersey), September 12, 1906, page 1.

The first moving pictures ever exhibited in public. They were made by Henry Heyl and were projected on a screen before 1,600 people in Philadelphia in 1870.

Scientific American, Volume 112, Number 23, June 5, 1915, page 530.


Henry Heyl is frequently credited as the inventor of the modern staple. He did not invent the first staple, but he did invent the first stapler that could insert and bend the staple in one shot. His design was not perfect, he used a second stamping action to better secure the staple, but it was a major innovation and generally considered to be the first “single shot staple” machine.viii

Devices for Inserting Metallic Staples, US195603, September 25, 1877.


Heyl’s one-shot stapler was not unrelated to his paper box. It may have been developed as a solution to problems associated with paper box making and book binding. Heyl had a succession of patents, involving the use of staples, many of those with a co-inventor named August Brehmer. Their earliest such patent, from 1872, was for an “Improvement in Machines for Making Boxes of Paper.” Their early stapling processes used two steps - insert the staple and then crimp them. Later patents described the use of such staples to make boxes and in the binding of pamphlets and books.

Heyl’s and Brehmer’s designs won at least two awards. They were honored at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 (the Philadelphia World’s Fair). The Novelty Paper Box Company (the assignee of most of their patents) received an award for their “wire stitching machines machines for books and pamphlets” (“wire stitching” in this context refers to stapling).ix In 1882, the Franklin Institute awarded their “Scott legacy medal and premium of twenty dollars” to Henry R. Heyl and Hugo Brehmer for their “Book Sewing Machine.”x

Heyl’s newly patented “paper box” may have been one of the first commercial uses for his newly patented stapling processes. His paper box patent describes the use of staples to secure the folds and attach the handle.

I prefer . . . to fold these laps outside and around two opposite sides of the box, so that the two pairs of laps, together with the two ends of the handle of ribbon or tape, may be secured by a single staple-fastening at each side . . . .

These staples are readily made and applied by the improved machine described in another application for Letters Patent which I have executed of even date herewith.

“Paper Box,” US175456, March 28, 1876, filed July 30, 1875.

Heyl did not invent the paper cup, but “was the inventor of the machines which make paper cups.”xi In 1906 he served as President of the Union Paper Cup Company of Trenton, New Jersey. That year is interesting because it is two years earlier than the earliest patents issued to Lawrence Luellen, who is generally given credit for inventing the paper cup in 1908.

The Union Paper Cup Company had connections to a man named James C. Kimsey, from Philadelphia, whose paper cup patents pre-date Luellen’s by several years. Kimsey’s main interest was in making paper milk bottles for sanitary delivery of milk, but he also developed paper cups. A man named John J. Shea held paper cup patents which were even earlier than Kimsey’s; and Shea’s cups were available for sale several years before Luellen filed his first patent application.

Luellen’s designs and and his company’s business model won the day. The company he and his partners founded would later become the Dixie Cup Company, the dominant player in the market, but he did not “invent” the paper cup as frequently claimed.xii

And in another first, Henry R. Heyl of Philadelphia was the first person to project moving images of people onto a screen - the first “motion picture,” in an exhibition of the “phasmatrope” at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on February 5, 1870.


The brilliant conception was due to the ingenuity and photographic skill of Henry R. Heyl, of that city. The exhibition was repeated by him before the Franklin Institute March 16th following. These were the first exhibitions known to the writer of photographs to represent in motion living subjects projected by a lantern upon a screen.

C. Francis Jenkins, Animated Pictures, an Exposition of the Historical Development of Chronophotography, Washington DC, 1898, page 7.


The photographs were staged poses, not taken from people in motion. They represented six sequential positions of dancing couple waltzing. The six were repeated three times to fill in eighteen frames on the wheel. The wheel repeated the same sequence of motion over and over as it was turned, so it was limited to showing brief, repetitive motions. An operator controlled the machine by hand, and synchronized with a live orchestra, the images waltzed on the screen in time with the music - the first “motion picture.” He is said to have been one of the dancers who posed for the images.xiii

As for Heyl’s paper box, now associated with Chinese take-out, it would remain basically the same for a century and a half. But Heyl’s company did not last that long. Heyl and Brehmer assigned their paper box and stapler patents to the Novelty Paper Box Company. Heyl’s “oyster pail” was not their only product, but it may have been one of their most valuable. The Novelty Paper Box Company went out of business in 1894, just after his paper box patent expired (at the time, patents were valid for seventeen years). Other patents were also expiring around the same time and earlier, so it may have been a cumulative loss of competitive advantage, without commensurate investment in innovation to maintain their competitive advantage.


The reason for the dissolution of the company was given as “the existing conditions of trade, and particularly the competition affecting the business of the company.” The corporation had valuable patents, which have just expired.

Philadelphia Times, March 25, 1894, page 3.

When Heyl died suddenly in 1919, due to injuries sustained in a streetcar accident, he was remembered as the inventor of the paper oyster pail. His name was still associated with at least one style of pail.

A mechanical engineer by profession, Mr. Heyl specialized in the design of special machinery, making articles constructed of paper, and wire. He was the inventor of the first machine for the making of wire stitched boxes and paper oyster pails, one design of which still bears his name.

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania), March 21, 1919, page 3.


It is unclear whether his name was used as a trademark of the Kinnard Manufacturing Company, or as a generic term for a particular style. Oyster pails had been available under the name since at least 1894.


The Merchant’s Journal (Topeka, Kansas), December 29, 1894, page 19.

The Inland Printer, Volume 24, Number 1, October 1899, page 158.

The Dayton Herald (Dayton, Ohio), October 14, 1899, page 10.

Following in the footsteps of Heyl's first paper oyster pail, other inventors and manufacturers would improve upon the product, creating the competition that would eventually drive Heyl's Novelty Paper Box Company out of business. Numerous designers and inventors would make technical changes, modifications and alterations over the years. Frederick Wilcox, for example, created a design in which the wire bail (or handle) did not poke through the interior wall of the container. His patent was at least the 25th improvement or modification to the paper oyster pail in the eighteen years following Heyl’s patent.

Wilcox’s “paper pail” was only one small part of his long career in paper products.

Frederick W. Wilcox, a New York manufacturer and inventor of paper boxes, has died at St. Luke’s Hospital, in that city, of apoplexy and heart trouble. For nearly forty years he was identified with the J. W. Wilcox Paper Box Company,xiv and was interested with his father in the inventions of the ice cream box, so generally used by confectioners, the congress tie envelope for legal papers, the paper oyster pail and many other paper box inventions. He was widely known in the tea and coffee trade through his extensive trade in sample boxes. He was fifty-seven years old.

Boston Evening Transcript, January 22, 1909, page 5.

The paper “oyster pail” seems to have been a profitable product, suggested by, if nothing else, the interest in innovation as evidenced by the large number of patents issued in the field. And some of those patents were considered valuable, sparking infringement litigation among the various players. Some of the inventors went from partners to competitors and opposing parties in paper box patent litigation, while others simply jumped ship from one company to the other.

Interestingly, most of the folded “oyster pail” patents between Heyl’s original patent in 1876 and Wilcox’s patent in 1884 were issued to inventors from Dayton, Ohio.xv Dayton was the home of the Wright Brothers and styles itself the “City of Inventors.” It was also the home to Aulabaugh, Crume & Company, later Crume & Sefton Manufacturing, later Carter-Crume Company, which later became the Kinnard Manufacturing Company. Aulabaugh, Crume, Sefton and Kinnard all held patents in paper “oyster pails” at one time or another, as did several of their employees.

Coming one year after Heyl’s patent, Peter M. Aulabaugh 1877 design looks a bit different, with curved sides, but it is the earliest patent to disclose the wire bail still in use today.

Improvement in Paper Vessels, US198332, December 18, 1877, Peter M. Aulabaugh, assignor to Aulabaugh, Crume & Co.


James A. Weed’s 1880 design introduced, for the first time, the angular wire bail, bent into angles, as opposed to curved over the top as in a classic bucket. A later patent, to Theodor H. Huewe (US262951, August 22, 1882), explained that the rectangular bail was functional; “I preferably make [the bail] of wire and of rectangular form, so that the weight of the vessel and its contents shall not tend to draw the sides together when the vessel is carried by the bail.”

An 1884 patent that looks very much like a modern take-out box, was the brainchild of two of the most important people in Chinese take-out box history, William E. Crume and Joseph W. Sefton, both of Dayton, Ohio. Crume and Peter Aulabaugh were at one time partners in Aulabaugh, Crume & Co. of Dayton, the assignee of Aulabaugh’s earlier paper vessel patent. The two had also been co-inventors on a patented “paper dish,” designed for grocers selling small quantities of bulk butter, lard or the like.xvi

Sefton and Crume had a falling out at one point, and Sefton moved to Anderson, Indiana, another minor hotbed of folded box patents. At least six early folded paper box patents were issued to inventors from Anderson, Indiana, or assigned to Sefton’s company in Anderson.xvii

As early as 1882, Crume and Sefton were partners in the Crume & Sefton Manufacturing Company, of Dayton, makers of various paper products. But several years later, Crume and Sefton went their separate ways - Crume continuing to run Crume & Sefton in Dayton, and Sefton running his own company in Indiana. The split resulted in litigation and an injunction. And both men later filed patents in their own, individual names, assigned to their own rival companies.


Paper Vessel, US303216, August 5, 1884, William E. Crume and Joseph W. Sefton, assignors to the Crume & Sefton Manufacturing Company.


Dayton Herald, August 19, 1882, page 4.



At a reorganization of the Crume & Sefton Manufacturing Company this morning the following directors were selected;


President - W. E. Crume . . . Board of Directors - W. E. Crume [and three others, not including Sefton)].

The Dayton Herald, May 17, 1888, page 2.


Yesterday the reorganization of the Crume & Sefton Manufacturing Company was noted in the Herald. To-day it was learned that Mr. J. W. Sefton, retiring president, has sold his interests in the company and has temporarily retired from active business.

The Dayton Herald, May 18, 1888, page 3.



Dayton, Ohio, June 29, 1889.

The J. W. Sefton Manufacturing Company recently started into business at Anderson, Indiana, and engaged in imitating some lines of our goods and infringing our trade marks. We at once began a suit in the U. S. Court, at Indianapolis, for an injunction against such infringement and for damages. . . . Respectfully, The Crume & Sefton M’f’g. Co.

The Dayton Herald, July 1, 1889, page 3.

The J. W. Sefton Manufacturing Company of Anderson, Indiana survived the legal attack. In 1916, the company sold for $3,000,000. One of their big successes came in 1900, hen “J. T. Ferris of the J. W. Sefton manufacturing Company invented and built the first combination unit for making double-faced corrugated board by machinery”xviii - in other words, cardboard.

Joseph Weller Sefton moved to San Diego in 1890 due to failing health.xix When he died in 1908 “from heart failure, induced by the grippe,” he was considered “one of the wealthiest men on the Pacific Coast.” Like Wilcox, Sefton died at the age of 57.xx His son, J. W. Sefton, Jr, a San Diego banker, famously married the movie star Minna Gombell, promising not to interfere with her career and signing a contract, “specifying that she could go out with unattached males between 3 p. m. and 1 a. m.” whenever they were separated due to business.xxi

The J. W. Sefton Manufacturing Company also made several contributions to the evolution of the paper oyster pail, with no fewer than six related patents filed between 1889 and 1898, one to John L. Sefton (presumably related), two to James Knight of Anderson, Indiana, and three to a man named Ira W. Hollett, of Chicago, who assigned his inventions to the Sefton company.

Prior to contributing designs to Sefton manufacturing, Ira W. Hollett had been business in Chicago making different types of water-tight containers according to what may seem now like an outlandish idea - metal seams. In 1882, Hollett patented the “metal seamed paper sack” (US261851). He filed the patent application in February 1882, and was one of the principals the Chicago Liquid Sack Company was incorporated in March of the same year.

A “metal seamed paper sack” was exactly what it purports to be - a paper sack with seams formed by pressing the edges together with metal strips, instead of adhesives. It was said to provide a “liquid-tight” seal, as opposed to bags sealed with adhesives, which might “leak by contact with the fluid.” He also claimed that the metal strips could be bent or folded at the top to form a carrying handle.

Hollett’s company was in direct competition with makers of “oyster pails” in the style of Heyl, Crume and Sefton. In 1884, Hollett filed an application for a “paper pail” in the already-traditional shape, but using “metal clamps” to form “liquid proof or tight seams,” instead of arranging the folds to make the pail water-tight.

As odd as the design may seem today, it was apparently successful, at least for awhile.

One of the most enterprising and successful concerns in this city is the Chicago Liquid Sack Company, whose office and factory are at Nos. 28, 30, 32 South Canal Street. This company was organized in 1882, and the increase and growth of its business have been phenomenal. They manufacture a very useful article in the shape of paper sacks, pails, and boxes, all water-proof, thus affording a handy, cheap, and convenient article for carrying oysters, syrups, butter, jellies, honey, etc., etc. No glue is used in cementing the seams, metal strips are used instead, making the sack or pail more secure. Among the specialties made by the company are metallic-seamed paper liquid sack and dandy pail, ice-cream and folding boxes, round paper cans, also round and square packages for shelf goods generally. The company ship their goods all over the United States. . . . The officers of the company are J. C. Magill, President; I. W. Hollett, Manager, and H. D. Oakley, Secretary and Treasurer.

Origin, Growth and Usefulness of the Chicago Board of Trade, New York, Historical Publishing Co, 1885-’6, page 301.


In the long run, however, the metal-seam design lost out to the folded paper pail. And if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Beginning in 1895, Ira Hollett was designing and filing patents for folded paper pails, which he assigned to the J. W. Sefton Manufacturing Company. One of those designs, which was filed in 1898 but not issued as a patent until 1908, appears to incorporate all of the characteristics of the modern “Chinese” take-out container. The final touch was the “cooperating hooks and slits” closure on the top flaps.


Hollett’s unfolded paper blank is similar to Chinese take-out containers still in use today.

The Legacy of the “Oyster Pail”

A century later, the “oyster pail” would be more closely associated with Chinese takeout than with oysters, although insiders still refer to them as oyster pails. The transition is said to have taken place during the post-World War II era in the United States, although Chinese takeout is known to have been served in paper “oyster pails” as early as 1914.

Albuquerque Evening Herald (New Mexico), February 9, 1914, page 6.

Down to Cases

With Case


. . . "Taking order to home pack in oyster pail will be charge extra."

Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Hawaii), January 21, 1924, page 6. 

But at that early date, folded, paper “oyster boxes” were as likely to have been used for any number of items, including frequently peanut butter, honey and more commonly, ice cream.

In 1932, Freda Farms capitalized on the strong association between oyster pail-style boxes and ice cream. They designed their new restaurant building on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington, Connecticut as a “Triple Ice Cream Box,” shaped like three “oyster pails.” They also outdid Baskin Robbins, offering “32 Flavors,” more than a decade before Baskin Robbins made “31 Flavors” famous.

Hartford Courant, May 29, 1932, page 32.

When they opened a second location in West Springfiled, Massachusetts a month later, it was billed as an “Ice Cream Box,” singular not plural.

Transcript-Telegram (Holyoke, Massachusetts), June 30, 1932, page 14.

Although labeled as the Freda Farms in Connecticut, this building may be their second location, in West Springfield, Massachusetts. It is not the same location as the “triple ice cream box” building because there are no hills behind, as in photographs of the “triple ice cream box” store in Newington.


An advertisement for the Chicago Oyster Pail Company from 1907 shows the similarity between boxes they marketed as “Oyster Pails” and “Ice Cream Pails.”

Ice Cream and Candy Makers’ Factory Guide, Chicago, Horizontal Freezer Co., 1907. 

The history of the Chicago Oyster Pail Company reveals more in-fighting and drama in the cut-throat oyster pail business. Lanzit had ties to the J. W. Sefton Manufacturing Company. Its President, Joseph J. Lanzit, was one Sefton’s “most formidable competitors” in the oyster pail business. He had previously made boxes for his own company, the Joseph J. Lanzit Manufacturing Company. He was so successful that J. W. Sefton bought him out and hired him to work for them as a salesman. As part of their agreement, Lanzit signed a ten-year non-compete agreement. But it didn’t last.

Lanzit worked for Sefton for one year, and then “entered into relations with the Fred Rentz paper company and the Chicago Oyster Pail company” (the Chicago Oyster Pail company was a partnership between Fred Rentz and a woman named Anna Rafferty, a former employee of Lanzit’s company). Sefton sued and a court found in their favor, enjoining Lanzit from engaging in the oyster pail and related businesses for ten years.

It is not clear whether or to what extent the injunction was enforced, or whether it even remained in force after the initial court rulings. The Chicago Oyster Pail company remained in business throughout the next ten years and beyond. And Lanzit was associated with the company again from at least as early as 1901. Years later, he was connected with the Florida Folding Box Company of Miami (1919) and the Smith-Byer Paper Company in Los Angeles (1920).


The services were secured of Joseph J. Lanzit of Chicago, inventor of much of the automatic machinery used in quantity production of paper containers, as superintendent of production.

Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1920, part 5, page 5.

As duplicitous as Lanzit had been, and as disturbing as his legal difficulties with Sefton Manufacturing must have been, it was not the most duplicitous thing he would do and not the most disturbing legal difficulties he would face. In 1924, Joseph J. Lanzit was arrested and convicted of conspiring to murder his wife, a “noted beauty and prominent business woman of Venice, Calif.,” and her closest relative.

Making ardent love to his third wife while he fashioned an infernal machine to blow her to atoms, is the confessed murderous duplicity of Joseph J. Lanzit.

Lanzit, 62, was arrested in the act of planting a dynamite bomb, said by experts to have been powerful enough to raze 50 houses.

The Independent-Record (Helena, Montana), March 28, 1924, page 5 (Note: at the time, “making love” could refer to simple wooing or romancing, not to the physical act as it would suggest today, so it did not have the same impact on contemporary readers as it might to someone reading the headline today. And it did have that meaning in the context of this story, which describes his romancing her with sweet phone calls while planning the attack.).


Oyster pails have since achieved a prominent place in pop-culture as so-called “Chinese takeout” containers. They also achieved a small place in high culture, in the poetry of three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Carl Sandburg. Sandburg mentioned Lanzit’s Chicago Oyster Pail Company obliquely in his poem, “Clean Curtains.”

“Clean Curtains” appeared in Sandburg’s 1920 collection, Smoke and Steel. It tells the story of a family moving into a home on a busy industrial street corner in Chicago, at Congress and Green, optimistically placing clean white curtains in their windows. In time, however, the dust stirred by hoofs, wagon wheels and rubber tires breaks their spirit and they take down the clean white curtains. One of the factories on the corner is an “oyster pail factory.” Given the location, it appears to be a specific reference to the Chicago Oyster Pail Company, which leased property at 504 South Green Street in 1907.

Chicago Tribune, August 30, 1907, page 14.


The corner of Congress and Green would have been located just west of what is now the western side of the I-90/I-290 interchange.



New neighbors came to the corner house at Congress and Green streets.

The look of their clean white curtains was the same as the rim of a nun’s bonnet.

One was was an oyster pail factory, one way they made candy, one way paper boxes, strawboard cartons.

The warehouse trucks shook the dust of the ways loose and the wheels whirled dust - there was dust of hoof and wagon wheel and rubber tire - dust of police and fire wagons - dust of the winds that circled at midnights and noon listening to no prayers.

“O mother, I know the heart of you,” I sang passing the rim of a nun’s bonnet - O white curtains - and people clean as the prayers of Jesus here in the faced ramshackle at Congress and Green.

Dust and the thundering trucks won - the barrages of the street wheels and the lawless wind took their way - was it five weeks or six the little mother, the new neighbors, battled and then took away the white prayers in the windows?

“Clean Curtains,” Carl Sandburg, Smoke and Steel, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1920, page 41.


Fred MacMurray and Carole Lombard dined from oyster pails in a taxi-cab in Paramount’s 1935 film, Hands Across the Table.

The rest is history.






i  “Small Wonders of Design”: The Chinese Take-out Box,” CBS News, Sunday Morning, May 22, 2016, .

ii  “The Chinese-Takeout Container is Uniquely American, New York Times Magazine, January 15, 2012, ; “Small Wonders of Design”: The Chinese Take-out Box,” CBS News, Sunday Morning, May 22, 2016, ; “Chinese Food Delivery Containers, Explained,” Dana Hatic,, October 1, 2016, ; “The Surprising Origin of Chinese Takeout Boxes,” Elle Woodside,, August 19, 2020, .

iii  US303216, Crume and Sefton, 1884; US262951, Huewe, 1882.

iv  “Groundhog Day and Ice Cream Scoops - a History of Ice Cream Scoops from A-Z (Allegheny to Zeroll),”

v  US158134, Edward D. F. Shelton, December 22, 1874.

vi  US198332, Aulabaugh, 1877.

vii  US215309, Wolf, 1878.

viii  “Stapler Gallery, Single Shot Staple Machines,”, ; “The Surprising History and Development of Staplers,” SALCO,

ix  Philadelphia Inquirer, September 28, 1876, page 2.

x  Philadelphia Inquirer, October 19, 1882, page 8.

xi  Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), June 1, 1909, page 1.

xii  For more on the history of paper cup, see my post, "Rewriting Pulp Fiction - an Unabridged History of Paper Cups."

xiii  Philadelphia Inquirer, February 4, 1962, Today Magazine section, page 2.

xiv  Wilcox was also associated at various times with Wilcox Paper Box Company, the Wilcox-Potter Company and the Duck & Wilcox Paper Box Company.

xv  US198332, Aulabaugh, 1887; US215309, Wolf, 1879; US262951, Huewe, 1882; US279992, Tiffany, 1883; US303216, Crume and Sefton, 1884; US382559, Schmidt, 1888; US3961131, Wolf, 1889; US411654, Fogelsong, 1889; US416817, Veneman, 1889; US432029, Fogelsong, 1890; US440656, Fogelsong, 1890; US515820, Crume 1894; US519153, Fogelsong, 1894; US528316, Wolf, 1894.

xvi  US196880, William E. Crume and Peter M. Aulabaugh, of Dayton Ohio, Assignors to Aulabaugh, Crume & Co., November 6, 1897 (filed August 2, 1877).

xvii  US416810, John L. Sefton, 1889; US571526, Hollett, 1896; US571831, Hollett, 1896; US577863, Knight, 1897; US581028, Knight, 1897; US886058, Hollett, 1908 (filed 1898).

xviii  Alexander Weaver, Paper, Wasps and Packages, the Romantic Story of Paper and its Influence on the Course of History, Chicago, Container Corporation of America, 1937, page 70.

xix  The Champaign Daily News (Champaign, Illinois), March 27, 1908, page 2.

xx  Sacramento Star, March 26, 1908, page 8.

xxi  “Marriage Contract Pleases, Extended,” Evening Vanguard (Venice, California), July 9, 1934, page 2.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Groundhog Day and Ice Cream Scoops - a History of Ice Cream Scoops from A-Z (Allegheny to Zeroll)



On Groundhog Day 1897, Alfred Lewis Cralle received a patent for a mechanical ice cream scoop. Fittingly, he was from western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh), not far from Punxatawney, the home of Groundhog Day and Punxatawney Phil. And every year, like Groundhog Day (in the modern Bill Murray sense of the word), posts, links and comments pop up on social media celebrating Cralle as the man who “invented THE ice cream scoop.” That characterization, however, is not accurate.

Alfred Cralle invented “an” ice cream scoop, but not “THE” ice cream scoop. His was not the first and would not be last. Ice cream “scoops or measures” were available, for example, in Boston in 1890.

Boston Globe, May 25, 1890, page 8.

A widely reprinted newspaper filler-item mentioned a “new ice cream scoop” in 1892.

An inexpensive utensil is the new ice cream scoop. It costs but 40 c, and is worth several times the price to the woman deputized to ladle out the ice cream at a fair or fete. These scoops cut the cream out in perfect forms, giving Tom the same amount as Dick or Harry.

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 4, 1892, page 6.

A new ice cream scoop has been invented which takes out from the freezer exactly the same amount of frozen sweetness to every customer and in exactly the same shape. After this it won’t do the young man a particle of good even if he is particularly well acquainted with the young lady behind the ice cream table at the church fair.

The Boston Globe, August 8, 1892, page 4.


Cralle’s scoop bears some resemblance to some modern ice cream scoops. But there are earlier patents that look more like some ice cream scoops still in use today than does Cralle’s. He had reportedly “received many letters from firms at Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and other cities offering large inducements to him should he wish to sell the patent outright or on a royalty,”i but it is not clear whether anyone ever manufactured any scoops according to his design.

Cralle’s scoop was not the only one inventing new scoops at the time; nor was he the first person from Allegheny County, Pennsylvania inventing scoops at the time. Defying all odds, during a three-year period from 1896 through 1898, more than a dozen patents were awarded for more than a dozen distinct designs, all to different inventors, with ever single one of those inventors from western Pennsylvania, nearly all of them from Allegheny County. A search of a worldwide patent database found no other ice cream scoop patents from anyone anywhere else in the United States during the same period.

What was going on?

The answer is suggested by a comment in a brief biography of Cralle, published shortly after his patent issued.

The invention patented by Mr. Cralle was advertised for by H. C. Evert, a well-known patent attorney in this city, last April, and immediately Mr. Cralle set his ingenious mind to work.

The Pittsburgh Press, February 14, 1897, page 10.


Henry Charles Evert was “at one time was one of the best known patent attorneys in the United States,” with offices in Washington DC and Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, he was locally famous for a colorful home life. In 1900, for example, he maintained separate homes, one with his mother and actual wife, and a second home with his girlfriend Mollie Campbell, under the false names of Mr. and Mrs. Whitney.ii

At the time of his death at the age of 46, in February 1915, he lived with a woman named Mrs. Julia Zanestein, the mother of his two youngest children. His wife, the mother of his two oldest children, had sued Mrs. Zanestein for alienation of affection, and had her arrested and briefly jailed for failure to make payments. The legal entanglements surrounding his estate and will made for several big headlines in Pittsburgh newspapers.

Evert placed advertisements in local newspapers soliciting clients. But instead of passively seeking out inventors with inventions, he actively gave invention prompts, with lists of ideas for items readers might invent. Many of his ads, beginning as early as February 1896, included a suggestion for inventing an “Ice Cream Disher that can be easily and rapidly operated with the hand.” Later versions of the ad specified an “ice cream disher that can be operated with one hand.”

Pittsburgh Press, February 23, 1896, page 15.


Pittsburgh Press, March 15, 1896, page 23.


More than a dozen local inventors took Evert up on his ice cream scoop suggestion.iii He wrote and filed nearly all of the ice cream scoop patents from 1896 through 1898.
Alfred L. Cralle was one of his clients. Cralle’s invention was noted in a local paper shortly after his patent issued.

For a long time the colored man has been coming to the front in the political, educational, business and industrial world, and on not a few occasions has the scientific world been benefited b the brain of the colored man. Hundreds of patents have been obtained from ideas introduced by the ingenuity and originality of the negro, and many thousands of dollars have found their way into the coffers of those who were fortunate enough to grasp an idea thus advanced before a patent was secured.

But all colored people have not been so fortunate, and Alfred Lewis Cralle, of No. 9 Olive street, this city, is one of the few exceptions. Mr. Cralle is the inventor and patentee of an ice cream mold or disher, and its practicability as a household article makes it all the more valuable.

The Pittsburgh Press, February 14, 1897, page 10.


Alfred L. Cralle was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, on September 4, 1866. He attended public schools there, and later enrolled at Wayland Seminary, Washington DC, one of the forerunners of the HBCU, Virginia Union University. Early in life, he worked with his father, a carpenter, where he reportedly developed his mechanical aptitude.iv

After leaving Wayland, Cralle moved to Pittsburgh, where he worked at various times as a porter for the Markell Bros’ drug store in the East End, and as a porter at the St. Charles Hotel. He would likely have had the opportunity to observe ice cream service close-up at either one of those positions; hotels of that era generally had restaurant service, and the Markell Bros. drug store is known to have had a soda fountainv (ice cream was generally served at “soda fountains” of the time).

It is not clear where Cralle was employed at the moment he conceived his idea, but when Evert filed Cralle’s application in June 1896, he was just starting a new job, as the Assistant Manager of the newly-formed Afro-American Financial, Accumulating, Merchandise and Business Association. Within several months, he would be promoted to manager of the

The association appears to have been something in the nature of a Black chamber of commerce and/or savings and loan. It was, in any case, devoted to the financial development of Black business enterprises. The president of the association, Rev. J. O. Thompson, described their services, and the need for their services, in a speech in 1897.

In referring to his organization, Rev. Thompson said: “Thirty-four years have passed in history and with a population of 70,000,000 in the United States, there are about 9,000,000 colored people. I believe that a solution to the negro problem lies in the fact of multiplying the race. We are accumulating &750,000,000 each year, which is distributed among the whites. The reason Bishop Turner did not get more negroes to go to Africa was due to the fact that fully $50,000,000, which reverts to the white man each year was too great an incentive to have him part with his colored brother.”

“One has said that there are 200 negroes capable of filling the presidency of the United States if it were possible to secure for a negro an election. There are about 140,000 colored people in this state, who accumulate an average of $1.75 per week. We have no manufacturing establishments of other business interests. we are unable to procure a place for one of our race in the various factories and business houses of white men, but readily spend our money with him. The negroes’ conditions to earn a livelihood are growing less each year, owing to the influx of immigrants. We must be producers as well as consumers, and although we have the same power of production, there seems to be such a lack of productive interest in us that we lose hope and fail to take courage.

“The association I represent,” Rev. Thompson continued, “is a race enterprise, and factional and denominational differences are laid aside. We all know how quickly property depreciates in value when a black man moves into a rich white settlement, and this is the reason so many of us are unable to rent houses in certain portions of this and other cities. But I must confine myself to the association. We have a capital stock of $560,000, divided in shares having a par value of $52 each. It is governed by a board of directors numbering 15 of our most prominent business men. Of the entire capital $65,000 has been subscribed and paid in.”

The Pittsburgh Press, May 25, 1897, page 9.


Alfred Cralle married Elizabeth Wade in 1900.vii They purchased a new home at 168 Mayflower Street in Pittsburgh’s East End in 1904.viii He was a member of the Golden Seal Lodge and the Free and Accepted Masons. He died at home on May 6, 1919.ix

Inspired by Evert’s advertisement, and perhaps informed by his experiences working in a drugstore and hotel, Alfred Cralle invented his version of an ice cream scoop. Evert filed an application for a patent on Cralle’s behalf on June 10, 1896. The general idea is similar to some modern scoops, the ones with a thumb-operated lever that moves a scraping blade along the inside of the scoop, to help separate the ice cream from the scooper. Cralle’s design included a similar gearing system used on many such scoops.

Cralle’s solution to the problem differed from earlier versions, while borrowing elements of those who went before. A survey of earlier patents paints a picture of the history of ice cream scoops, generally, and places Cralle’s invention in context, as one person’s small contribution, among many, to the advancement of ice cream-scooping technology.

One complaint voiced in many of the articles, posts or comments about Cralle’s ice cream scoop is that he and his invention are unknown, the suggestion being that “racism” prevented his name from being passed down to history. But none of the other people who contributed to the origin, history and evolution of the ice cream scoop are generally known either. A survey of early ice cream scoop patents adds their names to the otherwise nameless, faceless succession of inventors who did their small part to advance the art and technology of scooping ice cream.

An early patent for a designated “ice cream server” was issued to Jorge Oyarzabal, of Malaga, Spain in 1869. It included “a knife, A, and a flat scoop, spade, or blade, B, arranged at right angles to each other, and connected by a spring of elastic bow-shank, C. Or they may be connected like the legs of tongs, and be provided with a spring to open or move them apart.”

Ice Cream Server, US96929, J. Oyarzabel, October 19, 1869.


Oyarzabel’s “server” was not a “scoop” as such.  But the existence of ice cream “scoops,” by that name, can be inferred from comments in Thomas Burkhard’s patent of 1875, for “vessels for measuring and handling ice-cream, &c.” The patent also succinctly describes the problem addressed by every ice cream scoop patent since - ice cream sticking to the scoop.  Burkhard’s patent used thermodynamics to melt a small layer of ice cream where it touched the “vessel.”

My invention relates to an improvement in vessels for measuring, molding, and handling ice-cream or other frozen confections, whereby I obviate the troublesome freezing of the same to the sides of the vessels or molds, or whereby, when so frozen, I am enabled to melt a very thin film of uniform thickness between every part of the walls of the mold, measure, or scoop and the contained frozen cream or ice, so as to release the said frozen cream or ice, so as to release the said frozen confection from the mold without injury to the form imparted by the mold, or from the measure or scoop without the inconvenience of scraping with some instrument, as has been hitherto the case. My invention further enables me to readily mold in a neat and beautiful form and turn out upon a dish a small portion of ice-cream to be served to customers in a retail shop, a thing hitherto so troublesome and inconvenient that it has never been practiced to any notable extent.

US 165301, Thomas Burkhard, July 6, 1875 (filed May 17, 1875).


Burkhard’s patent diagram did not show a “scoop,” as such, but the patent’s language was general enough to apply to any “mold, measure, or scoop” of whatever shape or size. For whatever reason, however, Burkhard’s design does not appear to have ever been incorporated in any commercially available ice cream scoop. Perhaps the technology did not exist at the time that would have made it feasible or practical. Later patents generally focused on incorporating a scraper of some kind within the body of the scoop, to mechanically release the ice cream.

An 1878 patent to William Clewell, of Reading, Pennsylvania, introduced the internal scraping blade. The scoop required two hands to operate, one on the handle and the other twisting the internal blade using a top-mounted handle.

Ice-Cream Measure and Mold, US209751, W. Clewell, November 12, 1878.


This basic design was apparently widely used. Advertisements for conical scoops, with hand-turned knobs to operate internal scraper blades can be found well into the 1900s, and examples are easily found in online searches for “antique ice cream scoops.”

Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1906, “The Fair” advertising section.


A decade later, a man named Naylor patented something similar, but with the moving parts reversed; the internal scraping blade was connected to the main handle and remained immobile during use, whereas the top-mounted twisting handle was mounted on the body of the scooper itself - “when it is full, it is inverted and the cup turned with one hand, while the rim and knives are held stationary with the other.”

Measuring Device for Ice Cream or Other Similar Substances, US384776, T. A. Naylor, June 19, 1888.


The earliest ice scream scoop that bears a close resemblance to scoops still in use to day was patented by B. J. Noyes, of Boston, in 1895. This one has a more rounded scoop-body, with a scraping blade operated by turning a knob, that moves the blade, with a spring to move the blade back to its original position. The only thing that has changed from Noyes’ version to modern versions of the same scoop, is the mechanism used to rotate the blade.

 Ice Cream Spoon, US538693, B. J. Noyes, May 7, 1895.


A different type of solution is to push the ice cream straight out from the scooper with a plunger. Older Californians might recognize the origins of the traditional, cylindrical Thrifty ice cream scoop in this patent by Hans Thode of Mattoon, Illinois.


Dipper, US554550, H. M. O. Thode, February 11, 1896 (filed July 8, 1895).


The Pittsburgh patent attorney, Henry C. Evert, began soliciting clients to submit inventions for an “ice cream disher to be operated with one hand” as early as February 1896. He continued soliciting ice cream scoop inventions for about seven years, after which another Pittsburgh patent attorney started placing nearly identical advertisements, which continued for another decade.

Evert submitted the first of his ice cream scoop patent applications in March 1896. His client, Alfred L. Riggs of Knoxville, Pennsylvania, in Allegheny County, invented a scoop with a conical body and internal twisting blades. The blades twisted when the handle was depressed or released.

Ice Cream Mold, A. L. Riggs, June 9, 1896 (filed March 7, 1896).


A couple months later, Evert’s clients, C. L. Phillis and H. E. McCoy of Pittsburgh, filed their application for a conical ice cream scoop with internally twisting blades. Their version dispensed with the spring action, using a thumb-actuated lever to twist the blade one way on one use, and be ready for use the other way for the next scoop. Their idea seems to have been to omit whatever complications or maintenance issues might be cause by spring-activated parts. 

Ice Cream Mold and Disher, US568274, C. L. Phillis and H. E. McCoy, September 22, 1896 (filed May 13, 1898).


Evert’s client, Henry J. Pfeiffer of Pittsburgh, filed his application in September. His invention used a spring and plunger on top of the cone, with a screw to translate the up-down motion of the plunger into the twisting motion of the internal scraping blades.

Ice-Cream Mold and Disher, US571170, Henry J. Pfeiffer, November 10, 1896 (filed September 1, 1896).


F. D. Clark of Washington County, Pennsylvania used a completely different mechanism in his patent application, which Evert filed in March of 1896. Two hinged portions form a cone shape in its normal position. After scooping ice cream into the scooper, the user squeezes the spring-loaded handle together, forcing the two halves of the cone apart, and releasing the ice cream.

Ice-Cream Mold and Dipper, US571188, Fred D. Clark, November 10, 1896 (filed March 20, 1896).


Evert’s clients, C. W. and J. E Harmon and C. L. Boyd of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, filed an application in April of 1896 for a patent that issued on December 15, 1896. Their version of an ice cream scoop bears a close resemblance Noyes’ patent of a year earlier, and is perhaps one step closer to some scoops still in use today.


Ice-Cream Mold and Dipper, US572987, C. W. Harmon, J. E. Harmon and C. L. Boyd, December 15, 1896 (filed April 9, 1896).


Ice cream scoops with the same, general scoop design are still in use today, although perhaps with different mechanisms for operating the internal, scraping blade. Similar ice cream scoops were advertised for sale during the first decades of the 1900s.


Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), April 18, 1908, page 18.


Henry G. Morris of Hoboken, Pennsylvania, also in Allegheny County, also received his patent in December 1896. Henry Evert had filed the application for him in September. Morris’ ice cream scoop used a thumb-actuated lever to cause the inner scraper blades to rotate within the body of the scoop.

Ice Cream Mold and Disher, US573681, H. G. Morris, December 22, 1896 (filed September 1, 1896).


John and Susanna Zimmer of Pittsburgh invented a scoop without a long handle. In its place was a looped handle, as on a coffee mug or teacup. A user depressed a button with their thumb (against spring tension) before scooping the ice cream. After filling the scoop, they would release the button, which cause the spring to turn the internal scraping blades. Henry Evert filed their application in April of 1896; the patent issued in December.

Ice-Cream Mold and Dipper, US574185, John Zimmer and Susanna Zimmer, December 29, 1896 (filed April 14, 1896).


Henry C. Evert filed a patent application on behalf of Alfred L. Cralle of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania on June 10, 1896. His patent issued on February 2, 1897, Groundhog Day. Cralle’s invention included a bifurcated, spring-action handle. Like Naylor’s device a decade earlier, Cralle’s design called for rotating the entire body of the scooper around a stationary, internal scraping blade. But unlike Naylor’s scoop, Cralle provided toothed gearing so the scoop could be operated with one hand.

 Squeezing the moving handle part (b’) against the spring tension moved a “segmental rack” (an arced section with geared teeth), which in turn engaged a “toothed rack” on the outer rim of the body of the scooper. The movement of the gearing caused the body of the scooper to rotate with respect to an interior, stationary scraping blade secured to the stationary part of the handle (b) by an arm (d). In this gripped position, a user would scoop some ice cream. When the grip was released, spring tension would move the handle back to its normally open position, which in turn would engage the gearing, rotating the scoop body back to its original position while helping release the scooped ice cream from the scoop.

The section b of the handle is provided with an arm d, extending lengthwise with the mold and secured at the apex thereof to the shaft or rivet e, on which said mold a is adapted to rotate, as hereinafter described. . . .

The portion b’ of the handle is provided on its inner end with a segmental rack h, adapted to engage with a toothed rack k, secured on the mold near the mouth of the same, and the handles are provided with a spring l, secured between the portion of the same to retract the cutters after the handles have been forced together.

Ice Cream Mold and Disher, US576395, Alfred L. Cralle, February 2, 1897 (filed June 10, 1896).


Evert filed an application for Thomas Handly of Allegheny, Pennsylvania in September 1896, for his patent which issued in July 1897. Handly’s scoop had a spring-mounted arm under a handle, which operated to sweep internal scraping blades.

Ice Cream Disher and Mold, US586181, Thomas F. Handly, July 13, 1897 (filed September 5, 1896).


James and William Crea, of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, filed their patent application on March, 1897. Their patent issued on July 20, 1897. Henry C. Evert acted as their patent attorney. The Crea’s scoop had a slide lever mounted on a spring within the handle. Pushing the lever forward activated internal scraping blades. Spring tension returned the lever to its normal position when released.

Ice-Cream Disher, US586807, James and William Crea, July 20, 1897 (filed March 29, 1897).


Evert filed an application for Thomas F. Rankin, of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in November 1896, for a patent that issued in October 1897. Rankin’s patent has a thumb-actuated lever mounted on the handle, to activate internal scraping blades within the body of the scoop.

Ice Cream Mold and Disher, US591635, Thomas F. Rankin, October 12, 1897 (filed November 6, 1896).


Evert filed an application for Herman August Weber, of Pittsburgh, in May of 1896. The patent would not issue until February of 1898. Weber’s ice cream scoop bore some similarities to Cralle’s invention. It had a bifurcated handle held normally open by spring tension, and external, toothed gearing. But Weber’s invention moved the scraping blades within the stationary body of the scoop, whereas Cralle’s moved the body of the scoop around stationary scraping blades.

Ice Cream Mold and Disher, US599157, Herman A. Weber, February 15, 1898 (filed May 4, 1896).


Three years later, another one of Evert’s clients, Maximillian Bach of Pittsburgh, patented something similar, but with the gearing engaging on the side closest to the handles.

Ice Cream Mold and Dipper, US671788, Maximillian Bach, April 9, 1901 (filed January 16, 1900).


Despite the reported “many letters from firms at Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and other cities offering large inducements to him should he wish to sell the patent outright or on a royalty,” it is not clear whether Cralle’s design was ever put into production. Some posts about Cralle’s invention include photographs of what they believe to be a version of his ice cream scoop design, but a close look at the mechanism proves otherwise.

Samuel Momodu’s article on, “Alfred L. Cralle (1866-1920),”x for example, includes a photograph of an ice cream scoop with a mechanism for turning interior scraping blades within a stationary scoop body, not the other way around, as claimed and described in Cralle’s patent. The photograph posted in that article shows what antique ice cream scoop dealers refer to as “Gilchrist’s No. 33 Ice Cream Scoop.”xi

The Southern Pharmaceutical Journal, Volume 3, Number 7, March 1911, (insert) page 33.


Images of “Gilchrist’s No. 33 Pyramid Shaped Ice Cream Disher” reveals a thumb-operated lever that pushes a rod forward, the rod having a rack which engages with gearing on top of the internal scraping blade, to turn the blades and release ice cream scooped into the body of the scooper.

This model is apparently based on a patent for an “ice cream ladle,” issued to Raymond B. Gilchrist, of the Gilchrist Company of Newark, New Jersey. The patent describes a “rack bar” with “teeth” which engage a “pinion” to turn an internal “scraper.”

Ice Cream Ladle, US1109577, Raymond B. Gilchrist, September 1, 1914 (filed April 16, 1910).


Gilchrist is a rare bird among ice cream scoop inventors. He is one of a small group whose name is known to history, at least among a small cadre of dedicated ice cream scoop collectors who share their passion on Gilchrist was a serial inventor, entrepreneur and businessman. He held patents on numerous bar, soda fountain and kitchen-related items, including drink mixers, glass holders, lemon squeezers, corkers, cork extractors, battler cappers, mop wringers and ice cream scoops. Several of Gilchrist’s non-ice cream designs are still familiar-looking items, nearly unchanged in more than a century, including his “mop press,” “straw dispenser” and electric ice cream drink mixer.



Raymond Gilchrist and two partners organized The Gilchrist Company of Newark, New Jersey in January 1910, with capital of $125,000, and the stated objective of “manufacturing cork pullers, lemon-squeezers, corking machines, capping machines, ice pics, ice tools, etc.”xii

The company would also sell a line of ice cream scoops, several of them based on patents of his own design. Gilchrist’s No. 30, for example, looks like the “ice cream disher” in another one of his patents. This model reminds me of the mashed-potato scoops used by lunch-ladies in the schools I attended in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Southern Pharmaceutical Journal, Volume 3, Number 7, March 1911, (insert) page 33.


Ice Cream Disher, US1109576, September 1, 1914 (filed September 26, 1907).


Gilchrist’s No. 31 Automatic Ice Cream Disher looks like the design disclosed in another of his patents. This design looks very much like many ice cream scoops still in use today.

The Southern Pharmaceutical Journal, Volume 3, Number 7, March 1911, (insert) page 33.


US1132657, Raymond B. Gilchrist, March 23, 1915 (filed February 3, 1908).

Another inventor whose name is known among ice cream scoop collectors, and whose scoops are sought after by ice cream scoop collectors today, is Edwin Walker, of Erie Pennsylvania. Walker was associated with the Erie Specialty Company, which had its own line of ice cream scoops. Like Gilchrist, Walker held numerous patents, including several cork-pullers, several cigar-tip cutters, several phonographs, and several ice cream scoops. The Erie Specialty Company sold several different ice cream scoop designs under the name, “Walker’s ‘Quick and Easy’ Soda Fountain Accessories.” They also sold other of Walkers’ inventions, including an “automatic cork-puller.”

One of Walker’s early ice cream scoop patents introduced the “rack” and “pinion” mechanism, later adapted, albeit in a different arrangement, in Gilchrist’s No. 33 and shown in Gilchrist’s ’577 patent. Walker’s early scoop had a “rack” G with “rack teeth” g which engage a “pinion” F to rotate the “scraper” C within the body of the scoop.

Ice Cream Dipper, US892633, Edwin Walker, July 7, 1908 (filed December 1, 1905).


One of Walker’s later patents showed an operating mechanism eerily similar to Gilchrist No. 33 and and the ’577 patent, but Walker's application was filed several months later than Gilchrist’s.

Ice-Cream Disher, US1162116, Edwin Walker, November 30, 1915 (filed July 19, 1910).


Walker’s ’116 patent is reflected in the Erie Specialty Company’s “Walker’s Quick and Easy Soda Fountain Accessory” No. 387.

Other of Walker's designs looked, more or less, like other of his ice cream scoop patents.xiii No. 389 looked like his patent “ice cream disher,” US1138706, May 11, 1915, and No 386 like his patent “ice cream dipper,” US1012944, December 26, 1911.


Walker’s No. 385 looked like his .

Walker’s No. 182 and No. 184-A looked like one aspect of Walker’s patent “ice cream dipper,” US1138704, May 11, 1915, as as shown in figures 4 and 5 of the patent. This design hearkened back to Clewell’s 1878 patent, in general look and operation, but with a newly designed method of attaching the turn-key to the apex of the scoop.


Ice Cream Trade Journal, Volume 9, Number 4, April 1913, page 13.


The final coup de grace (or would that be coup de glace?) in the ice cream scooper-stakes was, perhaps, the simplest, most elegant solution - no mechanism, just thermodynamics, courtesy of Sherman Kelly and the Zeroll Company.

This so-called “antifreeze” scoop reportedly eliminated ice pellets on the surface of the serving. I believe that some accredited it with non-stick characteristics. It is very easy to use. It is easy to clean, It is robust. It is to this day one of the most commonly used ice cream scoops. To some extent, this scoop ended the race to find the best tool for serving ice cream. Did I mention that it is plain and does nothing but serve ice cream?

“Mechanisms,” Blogs,


In 1939, Sherman L. Kelly, of Toledo, Ohio, received a patent for an ice cream scoop that keeps itself just above the melting point of the ice cream, which “lubricates” the scoop so that the scoop of ice cream “quickly and freely slides into the bowl from the severing rim and as freely is released therefrom.”xiv This was a simplification over his earlier patent which used electrical heating elements embedded within the scoop.xv

But even Kelly borrowed, perhaps unknowingly, from an age-old solution. In 1875, Thomas Burkhard of New York City patented a vessel for handling ice cream that anticipated the thermodynamics of the Zeroll scoop by nearly six decades.  

Burkhard's patent used water, even cold water.

The cold water, when the measuring-vessel is filled with frozen cream, parts enough of its specific heat to melt a uniformly thin film between all parts of the wall of the vessel A, and thus to release the cream from the vessel, and permit the frozen confection to be turned out neatly and quickly into the vessel of the purchaser.  I keep the cold water in this measuring-vessel as long as I wish without changing.  It acts perfectly at any moderately low temperature above 32 deg. Fahrenheit, quickly regaining from the surrounding air the small amount of heat it loses in melting the film which releases the cream from the vessel A.

US 165301, Thomas Burkhard, July 6, 1875 (filed May 17, 1875).


Kelly's patent used liquid within the scoop, alcohol or water, but any liquid having a "high heat conductivity."  

It thereby conducts heat from the hand of the operator through the walls of the handle into the liquid.  In practice this is normally a sufficinet temperature rise to maintain the face above the freezing temperature of the material.  This lubricates the tool so that the formed service portion quickly and freely slides into the bowl from the severing rim and as freely is released therefrom.

US 2160023, Sherman Kelly, May 30, 1939 (filed May 23, 1935).

The “stopper” E of Burkhard’s invention corresponds to the “plug” 10 of Kelly’s. It’s mostly the shape of the two vessels that distinguishes them one from the other. Burkhard’s patent diagrams illustrated something more like a cup or tub of ice cream, but the language of the patent was very general, and even on its own terms applicable to any vessel, “mold, measure or scoop” of any desired shape or size.



Perhaps the technology did not yet exist for producing practical ice cream scoops embodying Burkhard’s idea at the time.  In any case, we should ball be grateful that the technology did exist when Sherman Kelly, as legend has it, witnessed a young woman blistering her hands while scooping ice cream in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1932.xvi

National Ice Cream Day is the third Sunday in July. Perhaps February 2nd can be turned into National Ice Cream Day, to remember all of the inventors, from A to Z (Allegheny to Zeroll), and from Oyarzabel and Clewell to Gilchrist and Walker, and all of the Cralles and others in between, who advanced the art of scooping ice cream.

If the groundhog does not see his shadow, summer - and ice cream weather - will arrive six weeks early.

Ice Cream Trade Journal, Volume 9, Number 4, April 1913, (insert), page 17.


i  The Pittsburgh Press, February 14, 1897, page 10.

ii  Pittsburgh Daily Post, July 25, 1900, page 5.

iii  A couple other local patent attorneys also filed similar patents for other western Pennsylvania inventors, perhaps inspired by Evert’s ads, and Evert himself filed a few more ice cream scoop patent applications a few years later.

iv  The Pittsburgh Press, February 14, 1897, page 10.

v  Pittsburgh Dispatch, April 14, 1892, page 3 (“Boy about 17 or 18 years old to attend soda fountain. Markell Bros., Penn and Frankstown avenues.”).

vi  The Pittsburgh Press, February 14, 1897, page 10.

vii  “Marriage Licenses,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, September 21, 1900, page 5.

viii  Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, November 17, 1904, page 16 (Mayflower street: Matthew H. Patton sold to Alfred L. Cralle an improved lot, 23x100 feet, in Mayflower street, near Park avenue, Twenty-first ward, for $2,700).

ix  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 9, 1919, page 15 (“On Tuesday, May 6, 1919, at 3 a.m., Alfred L. Cralle, beloved husband of Elizabeth L. Cralle, at the family residence, 168 mayflower street, East End”).


xi  Searching online for “Gilchrist’s No. 33” or “Gilchrist conical ice cream scoop” or the like results in numerous hits for images of scoops similar to the one shown.

xii  Newark Evening Star and Newark Daily Advertiser, January 11, 1910, page 15.

xiii  Ice Cream Dipper, US1012944, Edwin and Clarence Walker, December 26, 1911; Ice Cream Disher, US1138706, Edwin Walker, May 11, 1915; Ice Cream Dipper, US1138704, May 11, 1915

xiv  Tool for Handling Congealed Materials, US2160023, Sherman L. Kelly, May 30, 1939 (filed May 23, 1935).

xv  Gathering Tool for Congealed Material, US1974051, Sherman L. Kelly, September 18, 1934 (filed April 14, 1933).

xvi  “Our History,”,