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BHM: Alfred L. Cralle, Inventor & Businessman

Alfred L. Cralle

On the first day of Black History Month, we are celebrating the life and legacy of Alfred L. Cralle, an African-American business man and inventor from Virginia who invented the ice cream scoop in 1897.


Alfred L. Cralle was born in Kenbridge, Lunenburg County, Virginia in 1866 just after the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865). He attended local schools and worked with his father in the carpentry trade as a young man, becoming interested in mechanics.

He was sent to Washington, DC where he attended Wayland Seminary, one of a number of schools founded by the American Baptist Home Mission Society to help educate African Americans after the Civil War. Later, he settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he first served as a porter in a drug store and at a hotel.

It was while working in Pittsburgh as a porter that Cralle noticed that ice cream, which had become a popular confection, was difficult to dispense. It tended to stick to spoons and ladles, usually requiring use of two hands and at least two implements to serve.

To overcome this, he invented a mechanical device now known as the ice cream scoop and applied for a patent. On February 2, 1897, the 30-year old was granted U.S. Patent #576395.[1] Cralle’s ingenious invention, originally called an “Ice Cream Mold and Disher” was designed to be able to keep ice cream and other foods from sticking, and easy to operate with one hand. Strong and durable, effective, inexpensive, it could be constructed in almost any desired shape, such as a cone or a mound, with no delicate parts that could break or malfunction.

Alfred L. Cralle went on to become a successful businessman as well. He was named assistant manager when the Afro-American Financial, Accumulating, Merchandise and Business Association in Pittsburgh was organized. Cralle did not become famous for inventing the ice cream scooper.

Cralle’s basic design is so efficient that the now-familiar lever-operated Italian Ice/ice cream scoop was still seen in wide use over 100 years later.

Alfred Cralle was married and had three children. His wife and one of his daughters died in 1918 of a communicable disease. In 1920, Cralle’s only son also died of a disease, leaving Anna Cralle, born in 1910, as his only surviving child. Later in 1920, Alfred Cralle was killed in an automobile accident.

Biography courtesy of Wikipedia

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