Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Most Americans have enjoyed an ice cream sundae known specifically as the banana split sometime during their lives. A genuine banana split includes one scoop each of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream topped with chocolate sauce, maraschino cherries, chopped nuts and whipped cream resting between two banana halves sliced lengthwise. There are some variations in the toppings, however, as some use marshmallow cream and strawberry or pineapple sauces. The way the banana is sliced is critical, though, because the same frozen treat with a banana sliced crosswise into discs about the size of a quarter is the lesser-known banana royal.

The first documented creation of this culinary sensation has been verified as 1904 in Latrobe, Westmoreland County. David Evans “Doc” Strickler first created the concoction and served it at the soda fountain counter at the Tassell Pharmacy where he apprenticed as a pharmacist. Bananas had only become widely available in the U.S. within the previous few decades. Strickler had a reputation for being a tinkerer and decided to capitalize on the banana’s novelty by creating the banana split. It was especially popular with students attending nearby St. Vincent College, the first Benedictine college established in the U.S., in 1846. Students helped spread the popularity of the banana split when they returned to their homes and described the delicious specialty to friends and family. Although not documented, Strickler is also credited with custom designing a boat-shaped glass dish to perfectly accommodate the ubiquitous dessert. The Westmoreland Specialty Company (renamed the Westmoreland Glass Company in 1924) in Grapeville reputedly manufactured the dish for Strickler. The company produced it for decades.

“Doc” Strickler graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and became a pharmacist and optometrist. He eventually purchased the pharmacy, changed the name to Strickler’s Drug Store and operated it for many years. In 1959 Strickler applied to appear on the television series I’ve Got a Secret, at the time hosted by radio and television personality Garry Moore. In an extant original letter, Strickler wrote he “made the first banana split.” He also indicated the original price was 10 cents and mentioned the narrow glass dish especially made to serve the dessert.

Latrobe is not the only community that claims to be the birthplace of the banana split. The town of Wilmington, Ohio, holds an annual celebration for its invention. Wilmington claims E.R. Hazard concocted a banana split in 1907, three years after Strickler is documented to have invented his famous treat. Others claimed Stinson Thomas turned out the first banana split in 1905 at an ice cream convention in Boston. With the preponderance of evidence supporting Strickler’s claim, Boston conceded the honor to Latrobe. A claim was made for Columbus, Ohio, where soda fountain worker Letty Lally, employed by Foeller’s Drug Store, is reported to have developed a banana and ice cream dessert the same year as Strickler, but experts concluded she invented the banana royal, not a true banana split.

The National Ice Cream Retailers Association presented a certificate to the City of Latrobe in 2004 honoring it as the birthplace of the banana split on its centennial. Less than a decade later, in August 2013, a state historical marker installed by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission at the site of Strickler’s pharmacy was dedicated during a weekend-long celebration. The Dole Food Company Inc., one of the largest banana distributors in the country, helped sponsor the activity-filled event, which included an appearance by company mascot Bobby Banana.


The editor thanks Gabrielle K. Nastuck, director, and Lauren Condon, administrative assistant, of the Latrobe Art Center for their assistance in identifying and providing images for this installment of Marking Time.


Karen Galle joined the staff of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) in 1995. Following ten years as office manager of the agency’s former Commonwealth Conservation Center, in 2005 she began coordinating the State Historical Marker Program, assigned to PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation.