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A History of Sno-Cones

The icy treat, sno-cones (sometimes called sno-balls or shave ice), are certainly a favorite enjoyed in all sorts of flavors, but how did this sweet treat get its start?

In the 1850s, it was the American Industrial Revolution that made ice readily available. At the time, New York was home to several ice houses that would ship blocks of ice to Florida, using a wagon.

Often, when the ice wagon would pass through cities, such as Baltimore, children would chase the wagon and ask for a scrape from the ice block. After a short while, mothers started making their own flavoring as they waited for the ice wagon to come ‘round again.

One of the first popular flavors was egg custard, made with eggs, vanilla, and sugar.

About twenty years later, movie theaters used hand shavers to make sno-cones and sell them to moviegoers to keep them cool. These sno-cones were served in butcher’s boats, and were seen as an upper-class treat since they were associated with the movies. That same decade, six patents for ice shavers were created.

It wasn’t until the Great Depression and World War II that sno-cones became available across the nation. Sno-cones proved to be a treat that everyone could afford since they were so cheap to make.

In 1919, a man named Samuel Bert invented a sno-cone machine and sold sno-cones at the State Fair of Texas. In 1934, the first ice block shaver was invented in New Orleans.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, a sno-cone is made with crunchy ice, whereas a sno-ball is created using a fine, powdery snow.

Today sno-cones, sno-balls, and shave ice are popular treats, especially during the warm summer months. Sno-cones are enjoyed topped with combinations of hundreds of different flavored syrups, and sometimes paired with ice cream, condensed milk, or candy. Many other countries serve beans with their sno-cones.