Last week, presenter Joy Reid on MSNBC highlighted a black inventor who created the first ice cream scoop, something that has been close to this writer’s heart since 1) the Kathleen Hill Culinary Collection had one of its first and second, and 2) those who don’t love ice cream ?
Alfred L. Cralle was born on September 4, 1866 in Kenbridge, Lunenburg County, Virginia, shortly after the end of the Civil War. He attended local schools and worked for his carpenter father and became interested in mechanics.
Cralle’s parents sent him to Washington, DC, where he attended Wayland Seminary, a branch of the National Theological Institute, one of several schools established by the American Baptist Home Mission Society in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War to educate newly liberated African Americans.
Eventually, Cralle dropped out of school and moved from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
His first job there was as a doorman in both a drugstore and a hotel.
The porter’s job at that time was a job of respect within the black community, and eventually the positions of porters on railroads became positions of pride passed down from generation to generation of black men.
While working at the Pittsburgh hotel, he noticed that it was difficult for ice cream parlors to get the popular ice cream from a spoon to a cone or into a small bowl. When Cralle noticed that the ice cream tended to stick to the utensils, he created a device now known as the ice cream scoop since no one wanted to help the ice cream to its destination with a finger like at home.
Cralle’s first ice cream scoop invention was originally referred to as the “ice cream mold and disher” and was also used to serve rice and other foods without them sticking to the utensil.
Because of his early interest in mechanics, he eventually added a mechanism to the scoop for using a thumb to scrape food out of the scoop. This is the one for which he applied for and received a patent on February 2, 1897. At the age of 31 he was granted US patent no. 576395 for the mold and the disher.
Cralle also became a successful business promoter in Pittsburgh. He was popular and became assistant executive director of the Afro-American Association for Finance, Accumulation, Goods, and Business in Pittsburgh when local black investors started the innovative organization.
He never really benefited from the invention because its fame and subsequent improvements spread so quickly that no one remembered inventing the original despite having the patent.
Cralle was married and had three children, although tragedy struck his family. His wife and one of his daughters died in 1918 and his son died in 1920 from the diseases of the time. He only had one daughter, Anna. Later in 1920, Cralle himself was killed in a car accident in his adopted home of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Perhaps one day we will treasure the history of all people so much that we can honor it all year round, not just during a specific month.