PITTSBURGH – University of Pittsburgh alumni have won the Nobel Prize, played in the National Football League and unlocked the secrets of DNA. On Wednesday, the university celebrated a less prestigious but equally sweet accomplishment — the banana split (search).
Pitt declared Wednesday "Banana Split Day" and celebrated the dessert's 100th birthday by serving about 4,000 ice cream cones to university freshmen, family members, students and others returning to campus for the new school year.
Ice cream aficionados believe David E. Strickler (search), a 1906 graduate of Pitt's School of Pharmacy, created the first banana split in 1904 when he was an apprentice at Tassell Pharmacy in Latrobe.
At the turn of the century, there were no commercially prepared medications, so pharmacists became masters of flavor and were known for their sweet treats, said Patricia Dowley Kroboth, the dean of the university's school of pharmacy.
"While you might have thought this (celebration) was a little bit hokey ... we are very proud of David Strickler," Kroboth said.
Strickler went on to buy the Latrobe pharmacy and his gooey treat caught on with students at nearby St. Vincent College.
Word about the banana split probably spread because students told their hometown soda jerks about the dessert, said Joseph E. Greubel, a 1959 graduate of Pitt's business school and the president of the Valley Dairy restaurant chain.
The way Greubel sees it, the proper banana split is built on a foundation of a banana sliced stem to stern. The next layer consists of a scoop of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, topped with pineapple pieces, chocolate sauce and strawberry sauce. Then comes the whipped cream, chopped nuts and three cherries — although Greubel's restaurants replace one of the cherries for an American flag.
As with any first, restaurant and pharmacy owners around the nation have disputed Strickler's story. But the National Ice Cream Retailers Association (search) recently honored Latrobe as the dessert's birthplace.
There's convincing evidence that supports Strickler's claim, said Greubel, who co-wrote "Ice Cream Joe: The Valley Dairy Story and America's Love Affair with Ice Cream."
Strickler in 1905 asked the Westmoreland Glass Co. in Grapeville to make "banana boat" dishes. The order form still exists and is on display at Latrobe's historical center, Greubel said.
Strickler, who died in 1971, didn't make a big deal about his invention, said his son, William Strickler, who still lives in Latrobe.
"As a young fella, I didn't eat banana splits because they cost too much — 10 cents — and my allowance didn't cover it," William Strickler said.