The History of the Popsicle

How the Popsicle Came to Be

Popsicles. Getty Images/Maximilian Stock Ltd.

The Popsicle was invented by an 11-year-old boy in 1905, and it was a fluke. Young Frank Epperson didn’t set out to create a treat that would keep kids happy and cool on summer days for generations to come. He mixed some soda powder and water in a glass with a small wooden stirrer, then adventure called and he wandered off and forgot about his drink. It remained outside overnight. 

A Cold San Francisco Night

It was cold in the San Francisco Bay area that night.

When Epperson went outside the next morning, he discovered the first-ever Popsicle waiting for him, trapped frozen inside its glass. He ran the glass under hot water and was able to pull the icy treat out using the stirrer. He licked the frozen treat off the stirrer and decided it was pretty good. History was made and an entrepreneur was born. Epperson named the treat an Epsicle, taking credit where it was due, and began selling them around the neighborhood. 

Beyond the Neighborhood

Fast-forward 18 years to 1923. Epperson saw a bigger and better future for his Epsicle and he applied for a patent for his "frozen ice on a stick.” He described the treat as a “frozen confection of attractive appearance, which can be conveniently consumed without contamination by contact with the hand and without the need for a plate, spoon, fork or other implement.” Epperson recommended birch, poplar or wood-bass for the stick.

Now a grown man with children of his own, Epperson deferred to their judgment and renamed the treat Popsicle, as in “Pop’s Sickle.” He moved beyond the neighborhood and began selling his Popsicles at a California amusement park.

A Not-So-Happy Ending

Unfortunately, Epperson’s Popsicle business failed to thrive – at least for him personally.

He fell on hard times in the late 1920s and sold his Popsicle rights to the Joe Lowe Company of New York. The Lowe Company took the Popsicle to national fame with more success than Epperson had enjoyed. The company added a second stick, effectively creating two Popsicles stuck together and selling this double-sized version for a nickel. It’s rumored that approximately 8,000 were sold on just one hot summer day at Brooklyn’s Coney Island.

Then Good Humor decided all this was an infringement of its own copyright for ice cream and chocolate sold on a stick. A series of lawsuits ensued with the court ultimately deciding that the Lowe Company had the right to sell frozen treats made from water while Good Humor could continue to sell its “ice cream pops.” Neither side was particularly pleased with the decision. Their feud continued until 1989 when Unilever purchased Popsicle and, subsequently, Good Humor, joining the two brands under one corporate roof.

Unilever continues to sell Popsicles to this day – an estimated two billion of them a year in flavors as exotic as mojito and avocado, although cherry still remains the most popular. The double-stick version is gone, however. It was eliminated in 1986 because it was too messy and more difficult to eat than Epperson’s initial accidental brainstorm.

 

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Bellis, Mary. "The History of the Popsicle." ThoughtCo, May. 31, 2017, thoughtco.com/history-of-the-popsicle-4070016. Bellis, Mary. (2017, May 31). The History of the Popsicle. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-popsicle-4070016 Bellis, Mary. "The History of the Popsicle." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-popsicle-4070016 (accessed December 18, 2017).