January 24, 2006

Gratuitous Historickal Trivia


Today is the anniversary of the patenting of Eskimo Pie by Christian K. Nelson in 1922. Here is a piece of serious historical geekery about the pie's origins. It starts out wam and fuzzy enough:

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 confectionary 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 confectionary 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.

Not long after, Nelson teamed up with Russell Stover (of chocolate fame). The pair renamed the treat "Eskimo Pie" and began marketing it on a franchise basis. Nelson never became the Eskimo Pie King, however - Stover sold out, Nelson lost the patent, and their company was bought up by United States Foil. Nonetheless, Nelson seems to have tagged along on Eskimo Pie's corporate journey, continuing his work as an ice cream innovator with it right up until 1961.

I don't have much of a sweet tooth at all any more, but when I was a kid, I shore did like these things.

By the way, can one say "Eskimo Pie" anymore? Or is that un-P.C.?

UPDATE: Hmmm...This site gives the history of the name:

The word Eskimo is not an Eskimo word. It means "eaters of raw meat" and was used by the Algonquin Indians of eastern Canada for these hardy neighbors who wore animal-skin clothing and were adept hunters. The name became commonly employed by European explorers and now is generally used, even by Eskimo. Their own term for themselves is Inuit (the Yupik variant is Yuit), which means the "real people."

As I understand it from what I've read (Lewis & Clark and the like), this follows the pattern of a number of Indian tribe names that became common among European explorers and have entered the standard lexicon. The explorers ask a tribe with whom they had made contact about their neighbors. Naturally, the tribe would use its own name for such neighbors. Often enough, however, the first tribe's name for the second tribe would translate into something like, "Those bastards across the mountain who steal our horses all the time." I believe that in recent years there has been something of a push to do away with the use of more derogatory common tribal names. "Eskimo" is probably okay, unless you're a PETA member.

Posted by Robert at January 24, 2006 02:32 PM | TrackBack

From what I've seen, it's probably safe to say [although I have seen the substitution of "Inuit Pie", albeit usually used about as seriously as "African-American Russian"] as long as it's not used to describe someone's facial features [as it was with the Silver Age Green Lantern sidekick Tom "Pieface" Kalmaku...]

Posted by: Rex Ferric at January 24, 2006 03:19 PM

You had me at chocolate covered ice cream. You lost me at "eaters of raw meat."

Posted by: The Colossus at January 24, 2006 04:23 PM

Yeah, frozen raw meat pie somehow loses a bit of its nostalgic charm.

Posted by: LB buddy at January 24, 2006 05:02 PM

I wrote a short story in elementary school that involved some Eskimos, and when I turned it in, the teacher had crossed out the word "Eskimo" every time I used it and replaced it, in red pen, with "Inuit."

I was maybe ten at the time. I remember looking at the page and thinking "what the heck is an 'Inuit'"? Only now do I realize my teacher was being a PC-thug-language-fascist.

So, you know, thanks for dredging up that painful memory. Time to go cry myself to sleep.

Posted by: Sobek at January 24, 2006 05:20 PM

Of course, you have the flip side of everybody being named "real people" or some-such. Kinda like the whole "master race" thing. Except these are brown (red?) people, so it is OK.

Posted by: TheRoyalFamily at January 24, 2006 10:15 PM

The part with the ESKIMO,POLAR BEAR and PENGUIN on the snowmoble is pretty fun and those little ice cream snacks are good

Posted by: spurwing plover at January 25, 2006 10:58 AM

Yup, I think the other well-known instance of this is the Anasazi. The word is actually from the Navajo language, and means "Ancient Enemy". The descendants of the Anasazi themselves are the Pueblo people, who HATE the term Anasazi.

There are a few exceptions, of course. The Nez Perce people of the interior of the Pacific Northwest actually call themselves the Nimi'ipuu. The term Nez Perce was given to them by a French voyageur translating for the L&C expedition, and means pierced nose. there's some interesting information on them here:
which I used to brush up on the details, but mostly it's ingrained from that 4th grade Idaho State History class.

Posted by: Brian B at January 25, 2006 03:33 PM

I once explained to some Japanese friends that the term "Eskimo" was being replaced by Inuit or Innu, which means "the people". My sushi-oriented friends were puzzled by any implied criticism in being called 'eater of raw meat' and really didn't see the advantage of being called instead something that sounds just like the Japanese word for 'Dog'. Ain't culture great...

Posted by: Stuart E at January 25, 2006 11:05 PM