February 6, 2007

Russell Stover

And the man behind the brand is...
Russell Stover

All this thing really needs, thought Russell Stover, is a better name. Christian Nelson had been struggling with his inspiration for more than two years. Back in 1919 while moonlighting from his job as a schoolteacher Nelson tended to a small grocery in Onawa, Iowa. It was there he hit upon the idea to somehow combine chocolate and ice cream.

Nelson had the darndest time trying to get the chocolate to stick to the ice cream. One day he ran into a candy salesman who told him that cocoa butter improved the clinging ability of chocolate. It worked. Nelson called his confection the “I-Scream” Bar. His first batch of 500 sold out in no time at the annual Onawa Firemen’s Tournament.

That was enough to convince Nelson. He quit his jobs, filed for a patent, and went out to spread the word of the new “I-Scream” bar. Now it was 1921 and after repeated failures Nelson was reduced to racking balls in a pool hall for $20 a week when he met with Russell Stover, a superintendent for an Omaha ice cream company.

Stover, then 33 year sold, liked the product and readily agreed to form a partnership with Nelson. But the name had to go. Stover named the chocolate-covered ice cream an “Eskimo Pie.” The early Eskimo Pie was a small 1 1/2 ounce stickless bar and it was an immediate sensation. At one point that summer 250,000 bars were put on the market and they sold out in less than a day.

The partners set up a national distribution office in Chicago and in less than a year over 1500 licenses to make Eskimo Pies had been issued. By the spring of 1922 sales were averaging a million pies a day and Nelson was reaping $30,000 a week in royalties.

But the success quickly melted. Royalties went unpaid and imitators freely infringed on the patent. The partners were spending $4000 a day in legal fees just to defend the patent. Stover became so infuriated over the situation he sold his share of the business to Nelson for $30,000.

At this point Stover switched directions. Coming to the chocolate and ice-cream Eskimo Pie from an ice cream background he left to pursue the chocolate business. Using his Eskimo Pie money he headed to Denver where he opened his first candy store. For the second time Stover set up a national distribution, this time for boxed chocolates.

During World War II Stover left his business in Kansas City during World War II to serve as chairman of the Washington Commission of the National Confectioners Association. In the years after the war he ceded his presidency and retired to Miami Beach where the “Eskimo Pie King” died in 1954.

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