The Van Trump Report

From Dairy Farming to Selling Ice Cream Treats… to the Fortunes Made!

Christian K. Nelson emigrated to the U.S. with his parents and six siblings while he was still an infant in the late 1800s. The dairy farming family settled in Illinois, Wisconsin, and finally on a farm in Onawa, Iowa in 1903. There, Nelson would open a small confectionery shop (mostly candy) near the high school where he worked as a teacher. And it was on this week in 1921 that Nelson and chocolate maker Russell C. Stover entered into a handwritten agreement to market and produce what we know today as one of America’s favorite ice cream treats, the “Eskimo Pie.” It wasn’t always referred to as an Eskimo Pie. Originally, it was called the “I-Scream Bar,” but Russell Stover’s wife hated the name and suggested it be changed to “Eskimo Pie.” 

I suspect it would have been invented eventually, but less than two years earlier, the creation was inspired by the simple indecision of a boy who couldn’t make up his mind in the store whether to buy some ice cream or a chocolate bar.  I’m told the 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, and the boy replied, “Sure I know–I want ’em both, but I only got a nickel.” Following the incident, Nelson spent weeks working 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.

In the same handwritten document where Russell Stover and Christian Nelson agreed to coat ice cream with chocolate and divide the profits equally, they also decided to sell the manufacturing rights to local ice cream companies for $500 to $1000, plus royalties on each Eskimo Pie sold. It took no time for the duo to succeed after starting their business venture with an advertising campaign that was launched in Des Moines, Iowa. Incredibly, the first 250,000 pies produced were sold within 24 hours, and by spring 1922, an estimated 2,700 manufacturers were selling over one million Eskimo Pies per day, meaning each partner was raking in over +$2,000 a day in royalties, which was a ton of money back then.

In the patent, any frozen material covered with candy was covered by the law, and Nelson also had the name “Eskimo Pie” trademarked. Initially, even the word “Pie” in the brand name Frozen Treat was covered by this trademark. The only problem was the sheer breadth of the patent was detrimental to the company because of the growing legal costs associated with its defense. This led Russell Stover to sell his share of the company in 1922, along with high-salaried salesmen and difficulties in collecting royalties. All this led to the company being sold in 1924, when 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.

Interestingly, in 1925, dry ice was invented, and Nelson was eager to find a way to make buying Eskimo Pie as easy as buying another snack from a vendor, so he began marketing thermal jugs with dry ice supplied with Eskimo Pies to vendors without access to a freezer. This ingenious idea not only increased visibility and distribution but also made Eskimo Pie an impulse item.

After a decline in sales during the Great Depression, Eskimo Pie received a boost from the United States armed forces during World II. Impressively, after a century in the public domain, the brand name recognition of the chocolate-covered frozen treat is still strong as the company continues to market it in dozens of shapes, sizes, and types as it appears in cartoons, movies, and even in Funk and Wagnall’s Dictionary. 

In 1992, Nelson died at the age of 99. In that same year, Eskimo Pie Corporation was spun off from Reynolds in an initial public offering as an alternative to an acquisition that Nestlé had proposed in 1991, and eventually, the brand was moved to the Dreyer’s division of Nestlé. In early 2021, the Eskimo Pie was renamed “Edy’s Pie’, by Dreyers Foods in a nod to the perceived derogatory nature of the old name. It’s interesting how such a simple idea of combining ice cream and chocolate has produced such wealth for so many years! (Source:, smithsonianarchives)

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