The history of the ice cream sundae is fraught with claims and counterclaims. The website About.com Inventors lists three cities as the sundae’s site of origin: Evanston, Illinois in c. 1890; Two Rivers, Wisconsin in 1881, and Ithaca, New York in 1892. The Evanston claim is based on a law prohibiting the selling of soda water on a Sunday. It is said that local soda fountains started selling ice cream with syrup and kept it legal by not putting in the soda. Wisconsin credits Ed Berners of Two Rivers as being the first person who first served ice cream topped with chocolate sauce. Berners sold the dessert for five cents on Sundays. The Ithacans claim that Chester Platt invented the sundae when he served vanilla ice cream covered in cherry syrup with a dark candied cherry on top. My Michigan perspective: it is Clarence Clifton Brown who wins the sundae sweepstakes. Sources credit Brown as being the first person to serve hot fudge – rather than syrup or sauce – over ice cream. He first did this for customers of his downtown Los Angeles store in 1906.
The complete Fudge Boy ad, circa 1936
“The Most Dependable Fudge Heater Ever Offered”
Lovers of hot fudge sundaes should consider Herbert Brannon. Brannon was a Detroit businessman who designed a wonderful apparatus called the Fudge Boy, “the most dependable fudge heater ever offered.” This three-pint, bright red appliance promised to maintain hot fudge or hot butter-scotch at the proper serving temperature. It would not overheat but give even, uniform service in an economical and dependable way. Brannon’s Fudge Boy was used in ice cream parlors, drug store soda fountains, tea rooms, restaurants, department stores and hospitals. In 1936, it offered the ultimate sundae experience for the purchase price of $9.95.
Herbert Brannon was born in Dayton, Ohio (1904), attended public schools and worked with the Davis Sewing Machine Company in Dayton. He was known to be a workaholic who was influenced by Charles Kettering. Kettering encouraged him to further his education and thus Brannon developed into a skillful draftsman and engineer. Around 1935, Brannon moved to Detroit. His company, Brannon Incorporated, was located on Third Street, near the New Center area. Throughout his career, Herbert Brannon designed and patented various household appliances, such as irons, broilers, electric roasters and tea kettles. When he died at the age of 43 in 1947, Brannon was working on patents for a device that would clean with sound waves and another that would use well water to heat and cool.
Put it On Paper
Brannon’s three pint, hot fudge, wonder is part of the Michigan Historical Center exhibit “Put it on Paper.” This exhibit considers the creative endeavors of people native to or associated with Michigan. Others include cartoonist Ozz Warbach, writer Ernest Hemingway, and World Trade Center architect Minoru Yamasaki. “Put it on Paper,” which is supported by funds from the Michigan Humanities Council, closes on August 25th, 2013.