Story One - Evanston, Illinois
In the late 1800's, in some cities in America, there were certain religious laws called blue laws, which prohibited people from doing certain things on the Sabbath. One of those things was the partaking of ice cream sodas, more particularly, the soda part of the ice cream sodas was frowned upon. But people still desired a chilly treat on Sundays, and as we know, necessity is the mother of invention.
Evanston, Illinois was one of the first cities to enact a blue law prohibiting ice cream sodas on the Sabbath. It is said that certain drugstore/soda fountain operators decided to serve up an ice cream concoction using ice cream and syrup but no soda and charge a nickel for it. In the beginning, because it was sold so cheaply making it less cost efficient for the druggists, the Ice Cream Sunday was served only on Sundays, but because of it's popularity druggists began selling it every day of the week. Soon after, the name was changed to "sundae" when local leaders objected to naming the dish after the Sabbath.
Story Two - Two Rivers, Wisconsin
One Sunday in 1881, in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, a man named George Hallauer walked into Ed Berners' Ice Cream Parlor and ordered an ice cream soda. Because it was Sunday, and ice cream sodas were prohibited on the Sabbath, Mr. Berners could not comply. Mr. Hallauer suggested that Mr. Berners serve him a dish of ice cream with the chocolate sauce used for ice cream sodas drizzled on top. Mr. Berners consented, gave the creation a try, and decided to sell the treat for a nickel in his shop. As in the previous story, the Ice Cream Sunday was served only on Sundays, but later on, every day. The spelling was apparently changed to "sundae" when a glass salesman ordered canoe-shaped glasses, although I have no idea what that has to do with anything.
This story has been disputed because Wisconsin birth records indicate that in 1881 Ed Berners would have only been 18 years old and it is unlikely that an 18 year would be the owner of an ice cream parlor.
Story Three - Ithaca, New York
On a Sunday afternoon, April 3, 1892, in Ithaca, New York, Reverend John M. Scott of the Unitarian Church ministry made his usual Sunday visit to the local ice cream parlor, Platt & Colt Pharmacy, which was owned by church treasurer and friend, Chester C. Platt. Mr. Platt, wanting to provide refreshment for the Reverend and himself asked the fountain clerk for two dishes of ice cream. On a whim, Mr. Platt covered the two dishes of ice cream with cherry syrup and candied cherries. The two men named the dish "Cherry Sunday" in honor of the day it was created. Mr. Platt later introduced "Strawberry Sundays" and "Chocolate Sundays" and made an attempt to trademark the term "Sundays"
This last story is the best substantiated story as there was a newspaper ad found which touted the Platt & Colt's "Cherry Sunday" dated October 5, 1892. The ad in the Ithaca Daily Journal is the oldest known record of an ice cream sundae.
Just for Fun
How would you like to spend $1,000.00 on an ice cream sundae? At the Serendipity 3 Restaurant in New York City, they serve up the Golden Opulence Sundae which consists of 5 scoops of Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, which are then covered in 23-carat edible gold leaf, rare Amedei Porcelana and Chuao chocolate, American Golden caviar (caviar?!), passion fruit, orange, Armagnac, candied fruits from Paris and marzipan cherries, then decorated with real gold dragees (pronounced dra-zhay).
I think if I were on death row and they offered me a last meal, this would be it, minus the caviar! (Actually, I wouldn't 'cause that would cost the taxpayers' money. I would just dream of it while I ate my steak and coconut shrimp. Yes, the taxpayers can pay for my steak and coconut shrimp because I would have been wrongly convicted, and isn't that the least I would have deserved?!).
Go here to Armand Morin to see a guy who's actually eaten one. By the way, he's a multimillionaire.