A Bay Area boy’s unintentional invention of what would become the Popsicle
Innovation can take many forms. Sometimes it’s the development of robots that can explore the outer reaches of our solar system, and sometimes it’s putting a handle on a dessert. The latter advancement was achieved thanks to an 11-year-old boy in 1905, and even then it was an accidental discovery. Young Frank Epperson left a soda drink mix outside his San Francisco (or Oakland?) California home overnight, only to find it frozen solid in its glass the following morning. But thanks to the stirring stick in the center of the cup, Epperson realized that he had something special in his hands— the Epsicle.
Frozen and user-friendly
Epperson was able to see the importance of holding a frozen treat on a snack in part thanks to mankind’s long history with flavored, frozen ice. In ancient Rome, people would dispatch slaves to gather ice from mountain-tops that could later be served with fruit and spiced syrups. Many cultures around the world have some version of icy sorbets and freezes, but they were all forced to suffer through spoons and bowls to eat them. By the time Epperson was 29, he knew freezing a handle into the treat was a considerable upgrade, and even patented his invention, taking care to not only mention convenience but also the product’s “attractive appearance” in his application.
By the time the Epsicle was patented, Epperson had been making them for his local community for years. He had just expanded his market to the Neptune Beach amusement park in Alemeda, California, and the frozen desserts were selling well. Epperson’s kids helped rename the Epsicles to the now famous Popsicle®, supposedly in reference to the fact that their Pop made them (although it’s hard to ignore the fact that the new name also referenced another achievement-on-a-stick, the lollipop.) All this wasn’t enough to save Epperson from insolvency though, and he was forced to sell his invention to the Lowe Company.
Convenient desserts go to court
Under the new ownership, one of the first developments was to add more sticks to the Popsicle’s design. The thought wasn’t just that more sticks would make a good thing better, but that a double Popsicle sold at five cents could be a better value to customers, since they could break it into two desserts for two kids. This didn’t pave the way for total dessert dominance, but the growing Popsicle brand did find itself in court with other stick-mounted snacks, as Good Humor ice cream makers sued for the infringement of their chocolate ice-cream on a stick.
The battle of the utensiless foods was first settled according to their ingredients. A court ruled that Popsicles needed to stick to flavored ice, while Good Humor was fine as long as they only put handles in frozen dairy products. The argument was more firmly settled in 1989, as Unilever bought both companies and could truly rule the mounted dessert market.
My four-year-old asked: Can we go see him?
Frank Epperson died in 1986, having lived long enough to see his creation grow into a huge business, albeit in the hands of other people. He couldn’t be part of that growth after he sold the company, but he has at least held onto credit for his innovation. His grave in Oakland is included on tours of local food dignitaries, so we could possibly go to pay posthumous tribute to this Bay Area innovator.
Source: How A Bay Area 11-Year-Old Invented The Popsicle by Shelby Pope, KQED