Eskimo Pie Maker to Change 'Derogatory' Name

The 100-year-old ice cream treat will receive new branding, according to a statement from Dreyers Grand Ice Cream.

Bars of vanilla ice cream on a stick with chocolate
Photo: Moussa81/Getty Images

After Quaker Oats and Mars Inc announced that they would be changing the names and branding of their respective Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben's product lines, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream has announced that Eskimo Pies will be getting a new, less problematic brand identity, too.

"We are committed to being a part of the solution on racial equality, and recognize the term [Eskimo] is derogatory,” Elizabell Marquez, Head of Marketing at Dreyer’s Grand, said in a statement. "This move is part of a larger review to ensure our company and brands reflect our people values.”

According to the Alaska Native Language Center, the word "Eskimo" has been used interchangeably to describe both the Inuit and Yupik indigenous peoples. The name has been seen as disparaging, as it was bestowed upon the groups by non-Inuits and its original meaning was "eater of raw meat."

"'Eskimo' is not our term, but we still use it here, [but] not so in Canada,” native rights activist and author William Hensley told Indian Country Today in 2017. "Inuit is the general term for Eskimos but our preferred term is Inupiat [which means] The Real People. Our language is Inupiaq. Our cousins to the south call themselves Yupiit—Yupik for singular, but their language is Yupik as well."

According to an often-repeated story, teacher-turned-entrepreneur Christian Kent Nelson got the idea for the Eskimo Pie during a shift behind the counter at his Royal Ice Cream Parlor in Onawa, Iowa in 1920. A boy came into the shop and had a lengthy debate with himself over whether to buy a chocolate bar or an ice cream cone. When Nelson asked why he didn't just get both of them, the boy said that he'd love that, but he just had enough money for one kind of treat.

That gave Nelson the idea for a chocolate-dipped ice cream bar, he acquired a patent for covering rectangles of vanilla ice cream with a melted-chocolate coating, and he partnered with candymaker Russell Stover—that Russell Stover—to start mass-producing the frozen treats.

According to the Sioux City Journal, the name "Eskimo Pie" was suggested by Clara Stover, Russell's wife. (Nelson's original name was the "I-Scream Bar," and he also came up with the now-iconic "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream" song.) Nelson and Stover licensed the Eskimo Pie name to other manufacturers, earning a royalty on each bar that was sold.

"ESKIMO PIE' MAKER GOT RICH OVER NIGHT," a New York Times headline shouted in the spring of 1922, and the paper reported that the company was bringing in $30,000 a week in royalty payments. (That's the equivalent of around $465,000 in today's dollars).

A year later, the company was tangled in an expensive legal battle against copycats—yes, like the Ohio-born Klondike Bar—as it tried to defend its poorly worded patent. Russell Stover left to start his own namesake candy company and in 1924, and Nelson sold the company to the U.S. Foil Corporation, which manufactured the foil wrappers for each frozen Pie.

The standalone Eskimo Pie Corporation was acquired by Ontario-based CoolBrands International, which then sold it to the Nestlé-owned Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream. Dreyer's has not yet specified what the new name or logo might be.

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