The story of the All-American dessert that started in Latrobe
Since its invention in 1904, the Banana Split has become an iconic part of American dessert culture. Its history began when David Strickler, a 23-year-old “soda jerk” at a drugstore in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, started experimenting with different ice cream combinations. He cut a banana lengthwise, added three scoops of ice cream – typically vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry – and then topped it with sweet syrups, marshmallow, chopped nuts, whipped cream, and a maraschino cherry. It was an instant hit!
The Banana Split quickly gained popularity, particularly among the students at nearby St. Vincent College, who would frequent the drugstore to indulge in the delicious dessert. Strickler’s banana-based sundaes quickly became known as “Dr. Dave’s” among the students, who would rave about them to their hometown soda jerks, spreading the word about the new dessert.
Within a few years, the Banana Split gained national recognition. The dessert had become a staple of American dessert culture, and Strickler had become a pioneer of the ice cream industry.
Strickler went on to buy the Latrobe pharmacy where he had invented the Banana Split, and he even added an optical business upstairs. He was a staple in the local community until he passed away in 1971 at the age of 90.
In 2004, on the 100th anniversary of the Banana Split, “Ice-Cream Joe” Gruble worked with the University of Pitt to commemorate Strickler’s invention with the “From Pitt Came the Split” Event.
The Great American Banana Split Festival has been a staple in Latrobe since 2013, when the Pennsylvania Historical Society unveiled a marker at the former site of Tassel’s Pharmacy where Sticker was working at the time of his invention, cementing Stricklers legacy in historical record.
Today, the Banana Split remains a beloved dessert across the United States and is often found on the menus of ice cream shops and restaurants. It is also the official dessert of Pennsylvania!
Inside Strickler’s Drug Store
Outside Strickler’s Drug Store
Photos courtesy of the Latrobe Historical Society
Ice Cream Joe Gruble
The legacy of Latrobe as the birthplace of the banana split might not have been fully realized except for the efforts of Ice Cream Joe. While locals knew of the town’s claim to the dessert, it was Joe who in 2004, on the 100th anniversary of the invention, worked with the University of Pittsburgh on the “From Pitt Came the Split” event. He was also part of the group of Latrobeans that submitted the petition for the Pennsylvania Historical Marker that was installed in 2013.
From 2015 until his passing in 2017, Joe served up ice cream, ideas, and smiles as the celebration’s honorary chair.