by Mary Lou Townsend, Latrobe Historical Society
“David Strickler? Of course – he invented the banana split!”
That would be the reaction of most local citizens at the mention of that name. There are few area residents who have not heard of “Dr. Dave” and his contribution to our town’s rich history.
But if we look beyond the familiar story, we find that David Strickler added to local lore in more ways than one.
The Young Dave Strickler
David Evans Strickler was born in Unity Township, near Youngstown, on July 12, 1881. He was the son of David Braden Strickler, who was well-known in the area as “the silver-tongued auctioneer.”
The senior Strickler also dealt in real estate. He owned several pieces of property in Latrobe and in the Cooperstown section of Derry Township—now part of Latrobe’s Fifth Ward. It was here that “Dr. Dave” grew up.
He attended the one-room No. 1 School in Cooperstown, which offered only an elementary education. Since Derry Township did not have a high school then, Strickler’s father paid tuition for his son to attend the “city school” in Latrobe to continue his education.
In a 1963 interview published in the Latrobe Bulletin, Strickler recalled that his father paid $2.50 a month to send him to Latrobe High School, when the high school still offered only a college preparatory course. He graduated in 1901, one of only two graduates that year.
College and Career
Following his graduation from high school, Strickler enrolled in the Department of Pharmacy at the Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh).
He commuted by train; and during the two-hour trips he would study. Nights were spent working at Tassel’s Pharmacy on Ligonier Street. It was here, in 1904, that he came up with the idea of splitting a banana lengthwise and putting three different kinds of ice cream and toppings in the dish. (Later, he designed a special banana split dish, which was manufactured by the Westmoreland Glass Company near Jeannette.)
Following his graduation from pharmacy school in 1906, Strickler became affiliated with Daniel Livengood, who had purchased the drug store from Miss Tassel. Strickler became the sole owner in 1913.
He operated the store until 1929, when he sold the business to Charles T. Poorman and Oscar Johnson. Though the pharmacy at 805 Ligonier Street had several owners over the next seven decades, those owners retained the name “Strickler’s Drug Store” until it closed in 2000.
During the sixteen years he owned the pharmacy, Dave Strickler embarked on another career that became his life’s work. In 1920 he graduated from the Philadelphia School of Optometry.
Back in Latrobe he opened his office on the second floor of his drug store. For the next 50 years he fitted glasses to generations of Latrobe residents. He retired in 1970 after 50 years as an optometrist.
A Colorful Personality
Long-time residents who actually knew Dave Strickler have written about a man who added more “flavor” to our community than just the three flavors of ice cream in his famous frozen treat.
Following Dr. Strickler’s death in 1970, the editor of the Latrobe Bulletin observed that one of Strickler’s trademarks was “his nearly always smiling personality. There were few times that he couldn’t find a bit of humor or wit in most things.”
He certainly wasn’t shy about publicity. According to another article in the Bulletin, he “had advertisements painted on every rock of any size in or along the Loyalhanna Creek.” Long after the paint had washed away his name could still be seen standing out in relief on some rocks near Longbridge when the paint preserved the rock while other parts washed away.
In 1959 he wrote a letter to television’s I’ve Got a Secret in the hope that his ice cream invention could get him on the show. (It didn’t.)
“Big Barrel Links”
Few in Latrobe know that one of Dr. Strickler’s initiatives was responsible for what still stands today as a landmark along Route 30 near Chester, West Virginia. What is now heralded as “The World’s Largest Teapot” began as a large root beer barrel in Strickler’s front yard.
In 1930 Strickler constructed a miniature golf course in the front yard of his home on the comer of Ligonier Street and Avenue B.
Much of the landscaping was torn out to be replaced by the 18 hole links. Various hazards were installed to challenge the players, and clubs for both right-handed and left-handed players were provided.
On the comer of the links a large barrel-shaped building was set up. In the barrel were score pads and pencils, as well as the golf clubs and balls. In addition, it housed a refreshment stand where players could purchase such things as hot dogs, candy, cigars, and root beer.
For several weeks the course was a huge success as people were drawn to this new fad that was emerging across the country. But the 1930s was the decade of the Depression, which limited the time and money residents could spend on such frivolous pursuits. Fewer and fewer people played, and the golf course eventually closed.
For a few years, though, the “Big Barrel” still sold refreshments, particularly the root beer that Dr. Strickler was famous for.
Finally, in 1938, the “Big Barrel” was sold to a china company from East Liverpool, Ohio. A handle and spout were added and the structure was covered with tin to create a tea pot as a symbol of the potteries that flourished in East Liverpool and across the Ohio River in Chester and nearby Newell, West Virginia.
By 1990 the teapot had seen better days and was in danger of being scrapped. That year, through the combined efforts of a number of private, commercial, and government agencies, it was restored and moved to its present location.
Today, local residents driving Route 30 through West Virginia to Ohio can take secret pride in knowing that this architectural attraction had its beginning in Latrobe.
An Outstanding Citizen
A businessman and a professional, “Dr. Dave” spent much of his life giving back to his community. He was a member of the Chestnut Ridge Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army Advisory Board. He was also a former president of the Latrobe Chamber of Commerce. He joined the Rotary Club of Latrobe in 1924, just three years after the service club was chartered. In May of 1971 the local Rotarians honored him for his 47 years of membership, marked by 45 years of perfect attendance: that means he did not miss a single weekly meeting for more than 2250 weeks! When he was on vacation or out of town on business, he would “make up” at another club to keep his record intact.
Recalling his youth in Latrobe, Strickler said in 1963, “… it was just as nice a town then as it is now. I have been around the world, but there is no place like Latrobe.”
Through his dedication and pride in his community, David Strickler helped to make Latrobe a special place.
Reprinted with permission from The Latrobe Historical Gazette, Winter 2011-2012 edition.