Remembering the Great Drexel Ice Cream Sandwich Food Fight of 1991

Drexel President Richard D. Breslin was on hand to test the ice cream sandwich. Photo courtesy Drexel University Alumni Association.
Drexel President Richard D. Breslin was on hand to test the ice cream sandwich. Photo courtesy Drexel University Alumni Association.

This article is part of the DrexelNow “Faces of Drexel” series honoring Drexel’s history as part of the Universitywide celebration of the 125th anniversary of Drexel’s founding in 1891.

With Drexel University’s 125-year anniversary approaching, it’s important to remember the last time that Drexel celebrated an important year in its history — by building the world’s largest ice cream sandwich.

For the 1991 centennial celebration, Drexel Dragons built a 10-by-30-foot frozen treat featuring 500 gallons of various ice cream flavors and a custom-made cookie shell. Though the record for the world’s largest ice cream sandwich has since been bested, it’s likely that Drexel still holds the record for world’s largest ice cream sandwich food fight. 

History was ready to be made on that fateful day of June 5, 1991. The event was meant to kick off the yearlong celebration of Drexel’s 1891 founding. Various members of the Drexel community gathered on the Quad — and even on the roof of the nearby Korman Center — to watch the event unfold. Slowly but surely, over 30 volunteers assembled the ice cream sandwich using half-pound blocks of ice cream. Then-Drexel president Richard D. Breslin was on hand to deliver a short speech. Good Morning America even sent camera crews to film the historic Guinness Book of World Records attempt.

Finally, the ice cream sandwich was finished. Pieces were going to be served to the hungry audience. People started celebrating and then … SPLAT!

The ice cream sandwich being prepared. Photo courtesy Drexel University Alumni Association.

“They were just getting ready to serve the long-awaited free meal when suddenly something happened. The world exploded into a shower of ice cream … and cookies! Huge chunks of ice cream were being hurled indiscriminately into the thick of the crowd. Masses dove for cover while other students rushed the table for a handful of ammunition,” recalled an unwitting student journalist turned temporary correspondent in a June 7, 1991 Triangle article titled “Throwing Ice Cream Sandwiches Relieves Stress.”

It’s unknown who threw the first scoop — consider it Drexel’s very own version of “the shot heard round the world” — but many, many students quickly followed suit. Willingly or not, everyone was soon covered with ice cream and having too much fun to care. The messy outcome was seen as the best thing that could have happened at that event. 

The frivolity of a giant ice cream sandwich food fight let students relieve stress during Drexel’s dreaded week 10 and lightened the University’s reputation in the national media as a serious workaholic institution. One unnamed “sticky student” joked in the Triangle, “For a few brief minutes, the campus was actually a place where I wanted to be.”

The aftermath of the ice cream sandwich food fight. Photo courtesy Drexel University Alumni Association.

Though the event ended up being a huge success, its announcement was first met with doubt and confusion. Beforehand, Triangle op-ed editors had wondered, “Why would anyone want to get so messy and sticky just to be part of a small mention in a book published by an Irishmen?” And why pick an ice cream sandwich to begin with? After all, the tasty treat was created in New York City in 1899, eight years after Drexel’s founding. Still, people gathered on campus that day to watch history unfold. They were not disappointed.

The actual event, and the food fight that followed, created a communal bond that no one could have predicted. The Quad might have smelled like sour milk for days afterwards, but the resulting memories were sweet as could be.