Biographical / Historical
Eskimo Pie, America's first chocolate covered ice cream bar, was invented by Christian Kent Nelson in his home laboratory in 1920. Nelson patented his invention and the ice cream bar quickly rose in popularity in America. By 1922, Nelson was earning $2000 per day in royalties on his product.
Christian K. Nelson was born on March 12, 1893, in Gunstrup, Denmark, to Pedar Nelson and Margerethe Madesen Nelson. While Nelson was an infant, the seven Nelson children and their parents emigrated to the United States. The dairy farming family settled in Illinois, Wisconsin, and finally in Iowa in 1903. In Onawa, Iowa, Nelson opened a small confectionery shop near the high school where he worked as a teacher. The inspiration for the invention of Eskimo Pie was a boy's indecision in Nelson's confectionery store in 1920. A boy started to buy ice cream, then changed his mind and bought a chocolate bar. Nelson inquired as to why he did not buy both. The boy replied, "Sure I know--I want 'em both, but I only got a nickel." For weeks after the incident, Nelson worked around the clock experimenting with different methods of sticking melted chocolate to frozen ice cream until he found cocoa butter to be the perfect adherent.
Immediately, he produced 500 ice cream bricks with a chocolate candy coating. The "I-Scream Bars" were a hit at the local village fireman's picnic and Nelson began searching for companies to manufacture his new product.
On July 13, 1921, Nelson and chocolate maker Russell C. Stover entered into a joint agreement to market and produce the product. It was decided the name would change from Nelson's "I-Scream Bar" to "Eskimo Pie". In the hand-written agreement composed the same day the two met for the first time, the entrepreneurs agreed to "coat ice cream with chocolate [sic] divide the profits equally." They decided to sell the manufacturing rights to local ice cream companies for $500 to $1000, plus royalties on each Eskimo Pie sold.
Nelson and Stover began their business venture with an advertising campaign in Des Moines, Iowa. The first 250,000 pies produced were sold within 24 hours. By spring 1922, 2,700 manufacturers sold one million Eskimo Pies per day. On January 24, 1922, the United States granted patent number 1,404,539 for the Eskimo Pie. Nelson's patent applied to any type of frozen material covered with candy. Nelson also had the name "Eskimo Pie" trademarked. Initially, even the word "Pie" in a brand name frozen treat was covered by this trademark. The breadth of the patent was detrimental to Eskimo Pie because of growing legal costs associated with its defense.
Russell Stover sold his share of the company in 1922. Because of the cost of litigation, high salaried salesmen, and difficulties in collecting royalties, the company was sold in 1924. Eskimo Pie became a subsidiary of United States Foil Company, the supplier of the Eskimo Pie wrapper. Headed by R.S. Reynolds, Sr., the company later became known as Reynolds Metals Company.
In 1925, dry ice was invented. Nelson was eager to find a way to make buying Eskimo Pie as easy as buying another snack from a vendor. Nelson began to market thermal jugs with dry ice supplied with Eskimo Pies to vendors without access to a freezer. This increased visibility and distribution and made Eskimo Pie an "impulse" item.
The patent litigation continued until October 3, 1929, when the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the lower courts declared that the 1922 patent was invalid, due to "lack of invention." Eskimo Pie resembled an earlier product that also called for ice cream with cocoa butter dipped in chocolate. The judge declared that Nelson had merely changed the shape for an existing product. Even his trademark on the work "pie" was invalidated, as the judge said the word had a wide variety of use.
Nelson retired to California and assigned his royalties to his wife, Myrtle Skidmore "Skid" Nelson. However, Nelson, reportedly "bored," came out of retirement in 1935 to rejoin Eskimo Pie and work on new products. Nelson continued to create ice cream innovations such as ice patties and colored ice cream holiday centers within Eskimo Pie products. In 1955, Nelson was awarded a patent for his Eskimo Machine. The machinery squeezed out ice cream of the correct dimensions which was then cut into bars. This process was faster than the older method of molding the ice cream bar. After a decline in sales during the Great Depression, Eskimo Pie received a boost from sales to the United States armed forces during World II. Rising commodity prices in the post war era forced the company to reduce the size of the product. However, the distinct foil wrapper remained the same. Nelson officially retired from Eskimo Pie in 1961 as vice-president and director of research. Surviving his wife by one year, he died March 8, 1992.
In 1992, Eskimo Pie became independent of Reynolds' Metals. The company continues to market dozens of shapes, sizes, and types of frozen treats. The brand name Eskimo Pie continues to have strong consumer recognition and has appeared in cartoons, movies, and even in Funk and Wagnall's Dictionary.
"He Made Kids Scream for Ice Cream," 1959, manuscript from collection Nelson-Stover Agreement, July 13, 1921, manuscript from the collection U.S. Patent 1,404,539 January 24, 1922, manuscript from the collection
Scope and Content Note
The Eskimo Pie Collection consists primarily of materials relating to the advertising, business, and packaging of its ice cream products. The collection includes numerous photographs, printed advertisements, and packaging materials. It also contains company annual reports and newsletters, business history, information on machines and equipment used in manufacturing the product, and the history of the invention of Eskimo Pie. The formulas and directions for creating many of the Eskimo Pie products are included.
Series 1: CHRISTIAN NELSON PAPERS, 1921-1992 - Contains personal information on the inventor of Eskimo Pie, Christian Nelson, including his correspondence and financial information. Most of the correspondence is business related. Subseries 1: Christian Nelson Personal Papers, 1933-1988 - These materials include tax information, bank account information, and a few documents related to his personal life. Not many documents of a personal nature are in the collection. Most details of his life are found in magazine and newspaper clippings in Series 2, Subseries 4. Subseries 2: Nelson Correspondence (by correspondent), 1944-1946 - This subseries contains Nelson's business correspondence previously arranged alphabetically by correspondent. The correspondence only dates from 1944-1946. Subseries 3: Nelson and Business Correspondence (by date), 1920-1990 - Arranged chronologically by decade, this correspondence consists of letters on various topics that were scattered throughout the collection. Most of these letters are business related but many have personal notations within them. Not all letters include Nelson.
Series 2: HISTORICAL AND BACKGROUND INFORMATION, 1921-1992 - This series includes any information that helps to narrate the story of the invention of Eskimo Pie and the company that sold the product. It contains company scrapbooks of specific years, important historical documents regarding Eskimo Pie history, and newspaper clippings and magazine articles that summarize the detailed history of the company. Subseries 1: Background Information on Company, 1921-1992 - This information includes company scrapbooks that contain articles, letters, promotions and/or advertisements for a particular year. The scrapbooks often relate the history of Eskimo Pie in past years as well as representing the year of the scrapbook. Other materials such as the Eskimo Pie patent, and information on Christian Nelson and Russell Stover with their original agreement are included. Subseries 2: Information on Related Companies, 1947-1987 - This material contains annual reports and the company publications of Reynolds Aluminum which supplied the Eskimo Pie wrapper. Eskimo Pie became a subsidiary of Reynolds (then known as US Foil Company) in 1924. Other companies whose products are related to Eskimo Pie are also included. Subseries 3: Patent and Legal Information, 1921-1965 - Important legal documents of the Eskimo Pie business are arranged in this subseries by type of document. The patents include many of Nelson's patents as well as other patents of invention related to ice cream. Subseries 4: Newspaper Clippings and Magazine Articles, 1920-1990 - Most articles in the subseries are related to the history or business of Eskimo Pie, although a few are not. Cartoons that use the Eskimo Pie name are included.
Series 3: MANUFACTURING AND EQUIPMENT, 1922-1990 - This series documents the machinery and equipment used to produce, package, and freeze the ice cream. It also includes the specific formulas of Eskimo Pie products with ingredients and directions for their preparation. Subseries 1: Machinery, 1922-1990 - This series is comprised of catalogues, plans, and brochures on general types of machines used to create ice cream along with very specific types of machines with specific names (such as the Eskimo Machine). It also includes video footage of a 1990 production line. Some photographs of equipment are included in the catalogues but other photographs of machinery can be found in Photographs under Series 5, Subseries 1. Subseries 2: Formulae and Directions, 1942-1963 - Formulas and specifications to create certain Eskimo Pie products make up this series. The formulas and directions were sent to franchise manufacturers and field personnel and state how to use the machinery to create the desired product. The folders labeled with product numbers include booklets of formulas and the folders labeled with formulas of specific products are loose pages or additions to the booklets. Other formulas and directions for specific products can be found in some of the promotional brochures in Series 7 Subseries 4.
Series 4: ESKIMO PIE COMPANY RECORDS, 1951-1995 - The company records in this series are comprised of Annual Company Reports and Company Newsletters. Subseries 1: Eskimo Pie Annual Reports, 1951-1995 - The Annual Reports include financial information as well as the names of the directors, officers, and management personnel for that particular year. Subseries 2: Eskimo Pie Newsletters, 1968-1979 - These monthly newsletters function as a company information tool for employees. They include company news along with general interest features such as cartoons, news of the company sports teams, announcements of vacations and birthdays, etc.
Series 5: PHOTOGRAPHS AND NEGATIVES, 1928-1990 - This series consists of photographs and negatives of various subject matter. Subseries 1: Photographs, 1928-1990 - These photographs are arranged by subject matter. Some of the main subject categories of the photographs include machinery and equipment, advertising, promotions, and pictures of Christian Nelson at company events. Subseries 2: Photograph Negatives and Slides, 1928-1990 - This subseries includes many negatives of the photographs already contained in Subseries 1. Only one folder in this subseries is slides.
Series 6: ESKIMO PIE BUSINESS INFORMATION, 1921-1990 - This series consists of any records pertaining to the business of the Eskimo Pie company including finances, marketing, sales, promotions, personnel information, packaging, and publications. It does not include advertising. Subseries 1: General Business Information, 1922-1990 - Business information that did not fit into any particular business category comprises this series. Each folder's information is very specific to its own particular topic and is arranged chronologically. Subseries 2: Marketing, 1927-1996 - This series includes any marketing information that attempts to sell Eskimo Pie to the consumer. This information does overlap with some aspects of advertising and packaging, as they also function as marketing tools to promote increased buying. It also includes promotional materials for the film AWho's Minding the Mint?" which featured an Eskimo Pie ice cream man as a character. The information is organized by specific years or time periods. Subseries 3: Employee Information and Incentives, 1952-1970 - This subseries includes general information such as personnel lists and phone lists but also includes incentive campaigns for employees. These incentive campaigns were directed towards salesmen, particularly route driver salesman, and propose prize rewards for sales. The booklets in box 31 include the ads for incentives to be sent out to the salesmen throughout the year. Along with the ads are explanations of the incentive and the company's reasoning behind its approach to the salesmen in that particular ad. The prizes to be awarded are not specifically listed but are displayed in pictures in many of the incentive ads. Subseries 4: Premiums and Promotions, 1937-1990 - Information on premiums in which consumers save wrappers and send them to Eskimo Pie for goods as well as special promotions are included in this subseries. Lists of goods that can be purchased with the corresponding number of wrappers are included. Other promotions include prizes for contests or special offers with Eskimo proofs of purchase. This subseries includes promotional brochures that explain the new promotions. Subseries 5: Financial Information, 1932-1990 - Any business information pertaining to Eskimo Pie's finances, sales, and\or profits is included in this subseries. It also includes U.S. Foil Royalty Reports that report the number of wrappers shipped and manufactured of different businesses including those of Eskimo Pie (Eskimo Pie was a subsidiary of U.S. Foil). The U.S. Foil reports are addressed to Myrtle Nelson. Bank information of Frozen Products, Inc., which manufactured Eskimo Pie and Eskimo confections, is also included. Subseries 6: Packaging, 1921-1954 - This subseries consists of actual boxes, wrappers, lids, and sticks that were used in packaging Eskimo Pie products. The materials are organized by types of packaging and the dates of the materials are generally unclear. Subseries 7: General Publications Related to Ice Cream, 1935-1990 - Listed in chronological order, these publications provide information on the ice cream, dairy, and chocolate industries in a specific time frame. These publications generally do not mention Eskimo Pie products.
Series 7: ADVERTISING MATERIALS, 1922-1992 - The advertising materials included in this series mainly consist of the actual advertisements. Little written information on specific advertising campaigns is included with the print, radio, and television advertisements. The promotional brochures do include some written information on the product the company is promoting. Subseries 1: Print Advertisements, 1922-1989 - This subseries includes a range of types of advertisements. Some ads include printed ads in magazines and newspapers while many are proofs of advertisements that will go to print. Other types of advertisements include banners, decals, and railstrips which appear to be point of purchase displays for vending machines, ice cream stands, ice cream carts or trucks, or even the grocery store. Although the scrapbooks mainly consist of advertisements, they also include packaging, machinery, and marketing information. Subseries 2: Radio Advertisements, 1930-1985 - This small subseries includes scripts for radio announcements and advertisements. The sheet music for the radio jingles, "I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream," "Oh My, Eskimo Pie,"and "New Eskimo Pie on a Stick" are included here. Subseries 3: Television Advertisements, 1948-1992 - The television materials included consist of story boards, scripts for television advertisements with corresponding still photographs, television commercials, and little written information on television campaigns. Subseries 4: Promotional Brochures, 1951-1964 - This subseries consists of materials pertaining to new products or special occasion items (e.g. Christmas, Halloween). The brochures were probably sent to vendors, distributors and /or ice cream producers. The brochures intended for vendors and distributors contain samples of advertising, packaging, point of purchase displays and in some instances, inexpensive premiums to be awarded to consumers. The brochures for ice cream manufacturers contain some of the same material as well as the formula and directions for the product, a list of equipment required, and a price list for rental of that equipment. The material, contained in the boxes has been organized alphabetically where possible.
Series 8: MISCELLANEOUS, 1921-1979 - This series includes materials found in the collection with no apparent relation to Christian Nelson or Eskimo Pie. Random materials that display the Eskimo Pie logo are also included.
The Eskimo Pie collection was donated on May 10, 1996, to the National Museum of American History, Archives Center.
Related Collections The Division of Cultural History has several objects which are also part of the Eskimo Pie Collection.
The Archives Center holds many collections related to ice cream and the food industry including: #58 Warshaw Collection of Business Americana (see Dairy)
#78 Faris and Yamna Naff Arab-American Collection, 1880-1995 (see waffle cone machine)
#112 Famous Amos Collection, 1979-1983
#300 Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, 1790-1980 (see Ice Cream)
#451 Good Humor Collection, 1930-1990
#588 Carvel Ice Cream Records, 1934-1989
#594 Krispy Kreme Donut Corporation Records, 1937-1997