History of Thousand Island Dressing

Thousand Island dressing is one of the most popular salad dressings. It is an American salad dressing and condiment that is based on mayonnaise. It can include lemon juice, orange juice, olive oil, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, mustard, vinegar cream, chili sauce, ketchup, or tomato puree. Aside from that, it also usually contains finely chopped ingredients such as onions, pickles, boiled egg, parsley, garlic, and bell peppers.

Thousand Island dressing is widely used in fast-food restaurants and diners in the United States. It is sometimes called special sauce or secret sauce. It is also used by popular fast-food restaurants such as In-N-Out Burger in their secret menu items and McDonald’s in their Big Mac. Thousand Island is a popular dressing not just for salads but also for other foods. But have you ever wondered where it came from and how it was first made?

If you’re one of those who love Thousand Island dressing on their salads and burgers, then you might also want to know its history. No worries, because we’re here to tell you all about the history of Thousand Island dressing.

Origins of Thousand Island Dressing

Based on the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, the name of the dressing came from the Thousand Islands region that is situated along the upper St. Lawrence River between Canada and the United States. But according to a legend, the dressing was created in Chicago. In fact, for this one dressing, there are three legends. We will look at them all and the fascinating folklore surrounding them. In doing so, we may even solve the mysterious origin of the Thousand Island dressing.  

The Mysterious History of Thousand Island Dressing

One common version of the dressing’s origins within that region says a fishing guide’s wife named Sophia LaLonde made the condiment as part of her husband George’s shore dinner. In the early 20th century, small ends with restaurants specializing in regional recipes were abundant in the Thousand Islands. Many offered dinner from the bountiful catches of the St. Lawrence River and topped with unique sauces and condiments. 

One such was the Herald House. George LaLonde guided some guests from the hotel to fish for black bass and the northern pike through the scenic fish-filled waters of the Thousand Island. That would serve as their delicious shore diners. His wife Sofia created a different and unusual salad dressing that received great reviews from the fishing parties and was requested to be served in The Herald House’s dining room by May Irwin. 

According to one version, actress May Irwin loved the recipe so much that she requested it and gave it to another. The actress published her cookbook and had her cooking column. Some say that she might have given the recipe to Chef Oscar. 

There’s another version of the origins of Thousand Island dressing. It was in 1894 when Georg Boldt, a Thousand Island summer resident who built Boldt Castle between 1900 and 1904 and the proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, instructed Oscar Tschirky, the hotel’s maître d’hotel, to put the dressing on the menu because he forgot dressing on salads and improvised with what ingredients were available during that time. This same steward then rose to fame as the famous Chef Oscar of the Waldorf in New York City. Which happened to be Bolts, Hotel Oscar. It is said that they then went on to create other famous dishes, such as the Waldorf salad, Veal Oscar, and egg benedict.

According to a 1959 National Geographic Article, Boldt’s chef developed Thousand Island dressing. There were claims that he was involved in the introduction of the dressing at the Waldorf, but chef Tschirky did not mention the salad dressing in his cookbook that was published during that time.

Alan Benes, who owns the Thousand Island Inn in Clayton, New York, and claims that the dressing was first served there in the early 1900s, has a different view. He said that Oscar did not create it, and it was not George Bolt’s boat. Research on George bolt from a fellow who dedicated his life to the research found that Oscar Tscirky was never in the Thousand Islands in his entire life. He was scared to death of the water and hated boats. 

George bolt built the amazing castle in the Thousand Islands for his wife Louise, reshaping the island it is constructed on into a heart and renaming it Heart Island to symbolize his love for her. Their love story ended tragically as Louise’s own heart gave out before she could see the finished masterpiece in her honor. Today it stands as a testament to one man’s love, and in the gift shop, bottles of the legendary Thousand Island dressing are sold with the story of the Oscar and the yacht printed on the label. 

In 2010, Michael Bell, a sociologist from the University of Wisconsin, along with his graduate students, attempted to determine the origin of Thousand Island dressing. Based on their study, they found out that the story differed among villages and islands in the Thousand Islands region. Aside from that, they also discovered that there’s a third origin story about the dressing. The third origin story states that the original recipe was based upon French dressing, and it was supported by a recipe published in the 11th edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook in 1965. All the claims were based upon oral traditions without supporting records.

Based on Food and Wine magazine, Thousand Island dressing was a traditional sauce from the late 19th century in the Thousand Islands region. They stated that there was a wealthy who visited the region and carried bottles of the local sauce back to New York City, and one variant of that was found in Clayton, New York, called Sophia’s Sauce. That sauce was found at the Herald Hotel run by Sophia LaLonde, the innkeeper.

But some food writers claim that Thousand Island dressing was invented by Theo Rooms, a chef from the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago during the same time. Chef Theo Rooms’ story was featured and archived at the Chicago culinary museum, a program for the award ceremony held in September 1925 at the Hotel Sherman’s grand ballroom. In the event, chef Rooms was recognized for his contributions to American cuisine for creating Thousand Island dressing in the early 1900. Based on food historians from the Food Timeline, the earliest print references to Thousand Island dressing appeared in 1912. And the recipes for different versions of the dressing began to appear after that throughout the United States.

Another Mysterious Dressing

There’s also a dressing similar to Thousand Islands called Rhode Island dressing. It was introduced by Tore Wretman, a Swedish restaurateur. It has a confusing name for foreigners because its origin is also unclear, and the dressing does not have any relationship to Rhode Island, and it is also not used for similar preparations outside Sweden.

Presently, Thousand Island dressing is no longer associated with the culinary elite. It’s because we can now easily buy the dressing in stores and even create it on our own.