Snowballs can be traced back through American history as early as the 1850’s. When ice houses in Baltimore delivered ice, the would collect and pass out the ice shavings to children in the streets to cool off on hot summer days. As this tradition grew, the first snowball flavor was born. Egg Custard, became a homemade staple due to common household ingredients (eggs, sugar and vanilla).
As the popularity of this icy summer treat grew, Baltimore businesses would use hand shavers to scrape ice blocks. By the late turn of the century, inventions to more easily shave ice were under way. In the 1890’s, six patents were filed for electric ice shavers.
Primarily associated with Baltimore, snowballs came to be available in other cities during the Great Depression as an inexpensive treat. In 1919 Samuel Bert began selling his icy treat at the State Fair of Texas. A year later he patented his “ice crusher machine” forever solidifying the snow cone as a piece of Americana.
It’s all about the Ice
The name of this icy treat is dependent on how the ice is prepared and typically associated to a region of the United States. The nickname “snoball” references ice that is shaved or scraped off an ice block. Due to the fluffy snow like consistency of the ice, when scooped in a ball shape, the ice resembles a ball of snow. Snow Cone ice is crushed more crunchy ice.
Other names for snow cones or snowballs are Shave Ice in Hawaii, Piragua in Puerto Rico, Granizado in Cuba, and Respados or Respadas in Mexico.