The next time you pop a popsicle in your mouth, think about this; you’re enjoying the invention of an 11-year old boy.
In 1905, a young kid who lived in San Francisco called Frank Epperson accidentally invented this particular treat that we enjoy in summer. He mixed some sugary soda powder with water and left it out overnight to go take a rest.
It was a cold night, and the mixture ended up freezing. In the morning, seeing how the mixture had frozen, Epperson held the wooden stirrer and took the frozen mixture out to taste it. He then devoured the whole concoction from the wooden stick because it had tasted nice.
He thought it was a good idea and that he could make money from it if people patronized it. He came out with ‘Epsicle’ as the name; a portmanteau of icicle and his name and started selling the treat in his neighborhood.
Business seems to go well with him. In 1923, he decided to expand the business beyond his neighborhood. He started selling the treat at Neptune Beach, a nearby amusement park. Neptune flourished in the pre-depression days and consumers eagerly consumed Epsicles and snow cones (which also made their debut at Neptune).
In 1924, Epperson applied for a patent which helped to make the Epsicle more attractive and convenient for buyers to consume without contaminating it with their hands or the need for a plate, a fork or a spoon or any other. The best stick was used in making the Epsicle in order for consumers to be comfortable.
As time went on, Epperson’s children convinced him to change the name to what they call ‘Pop’s Sicle’ or ‘Popsicle’.
The story behind the invention of this treat is quite extraordinary but it didn’t have a happy ending for the inventor.
Much to his regret, a broke Epperson sold the rights to his creation to Joe Lowe Company in the 1920s. “I was flat and had to liquidate all my assets,” he later said. “I haven’t been the same since.”
Joe Lowe later faced competition and was sued for copyright infringement. The giant food corporation, Unilever scooped up the popsicle brand in 1989 expanding the brand beyond its fruity flavors.
Over the years, Epperson’s childhood invention has achieved iconic status, standing in for any frozen treat the way ‘Pampers’ means diapers.
He then died in 1983. His story lives on in many forms – from the official popsicle website where it’s illustrated in comic form, to an inspirational Christian self-help book about trusting in God’s grand plan for your life.
Even though Epperson’s invention was born on a freezing night, it has proven to be amazingly successful and long-lived. Every year, over 2 billion popsicles are sold.