National Eskimo Pie Patent Day
annually on January 24th
Today celebrates the anniversary of the patent of the Eskimo Pie, which is seen as being America's first chocolate-covered ice cream bar. In 1920, a boy had come into Christian Kent Nelson's sweets and candy shop. He ordered ice cream, but then changed his mind and asked for chocolate instead. Nelson asked him why he didn't order both, and the boy said it was because he couldn't afford to—he only had a nickel. Nelson worked to find a way to melt chocolate onto ice cream in such as way so that it would adhere to it, and he found that using melted cocoa butter worked the best. He called his bars "I-Scream Bars," and after they were a hit at the village fireman's picnic, he started searching for companies to manufacture them. He partnered with Russell C. Stover, and they made an agreement where they would split the profits. At Stover's insistence, the name of the ice cream treat was changed to "Eskimo Pie"—a name that evoked the cold north, and the indigenous people that lived there; some today see the name as being culturally insensitive.
On January 24, 1922, Nelson received a patent for his confection. The patent was broad, and covered the idea of ice cream coated bars in general, instead of the narrow focus of the formula of his coating. He also trademarked the name "Eskimo Pie." Rights to make the confection were sold to local ice cream companies for $500 to $1000, and royalties were guaranteed for each Eskimo Pie sold. The company was quickly making $2000 a day in royalties, and by the spring of 1922, one million Eskimo Pies were being sold each day, by 2,700 manufacturers. But, because the patent was so broad, it was difficult to defend, and legal fees ballooned to $4,000 a day, almost $60,000 in today's money.
Russell Stover left the company in 1923 and started Russell Stover Candies. In 1924, Nelson sold the company to the U.S. Foil Corporation, the maker of the treat's wrapper; the company later became the Reynolds Metals Company. In 1929, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision that Nelson's patent was invalid because the Eskimo Pie was similar to an earlier product. Still, Nelson continued to work for Eskimo Pie for over 30 more years, until retiring from the position of vice president and director of research. Nelson died in 1992, the same year Eskimo Pies became independent of Reynolds Metals. As of 2018 they are owned by Nestlé.
How to Observe
Celebrating the day is quite easy. Pick up a box of Eskimo Pies and enjoy!