Popsicles: An Iconic Treat Invented By An 11-Year-Old
Regarding this summer, as Rob Thomas famously said, “it’s a hot one.” Sky-high temperatures across the country have left the nation a sweaty mess that no deodorant known to science is able to hold back. You can, of course, as this author prefers, hunker down inside like a sunsick child, but for those who choose to brave the scorching heat, ways to stay cool in the face of a quickly heating atmosphere are tantamount.
Pools, fans, and even those crappy little misters you get at a gas station all do their part. Maybe you can take refuge under a large umbrella or an obnoxiously big hat. These solutions, however, all only take care of half of the problem: your outsides. When it’s a true, heavy heat, your insides demand the same relief as your public-facing epidermis. In the discipline of internal cooling, there’s a couple cool treats that are kings of the hill: an ice cold beer, for those of age, or a lemonade or soda for those who aren’t. However, each sip of the above is fleeting in its mercy. When it comes to pure, lasting, cool relief, the unimpeachable emperor of the experience is the popsicle.
Let’s look at the history of the popsicle, with a few particular dates that “stick” out. Sorry.
It’s a personal opinion that my favorite way for anything to be invented is by accident. Whether it’s the accidental discovery of penicillin or the horrific factory accident that resulted in Cap’n Crunch Oops! All Berries, it’s always great to see a person beef their way into progress. It’s also something that feels increasingly sparse in the snack world, as most new snacks and candy nowadays seem to have been developed in a process that involves a centrifuge. Gone are the days of someone accidentally dropping a bunch of peanuts in the chocolate vat.
The popsicle, however, is one of these delightful goofs, and one made not even near the vicinity of a professional kitchen whatsoever. It was instead discovered by someone that remains a stalwart subset of today’s popsicle enjoyers: an 11 year old boy in his backyard. Frank Epperson was a boy in Oakland California, who’d had a hankering for mixing up a soda. He mixed water and the powdered mix in a glass with a stick, but in classic 11 year old fashion, then completely forgot what he was doing and left the whole mixture and kit outside overnight.
When he found it in the morning, the mixture had frozen solid, with the stick enmeshed within. This being the 1900s, and people not being worried about things like drinking a cup of standing water left out for 12 hours, Frank took the glass inside. He had the bright idea to run the glass under hot water to unseat the treat, which is honestly genius for an 11 year old. My plan would have been “hide this in my room so that my mom doesn’t figure out I left glassware out overnight.” The ‘sicle popped out, and Lil’ Frank was enjoying the first ever treat of its ilk.
Fast-forward 18 years and a grown-up Frank Epperson has been housing his homemade treats since their inception. He’s also passed them on to his children, who had no idea they were part of one of dessert’s historically significant focus groups. Frank calls his invention the “Eppsicle,” but his children, out of familial love and maybe a hunch that the name Eppsicle sucks, refer to them as “Pop’s sicles.” Pop’s ‘sicles gets compressed into Popsicles, and Epperson files for a patent on them in 1923.
As far as patents go, you have to think the popsicle is one of the simpler ones. When I imagine a patent I immediately picture a disassembled motor with one hundred tiny parts and a key going from part A-Z and beyond. Must have been a nice easy day at the patent office when they got the paper that said “put stick in tasty water and freeze stick in tasty water then take stick out and frozen tasty water comes with it :).” You also have to imagine that the first person to read that patent went home that day, kicked open their family door with a grip of sticks and flavor powder, and yelled to their partner “HONEY, GET THE KIDS, I JUST FOUND OUT SOMETHING INCREDIBLE.”
Epperson Exits The Picture
Now, if you’re to read this history on Popsicle’s website, or any other site under the influence of Big Popsicle, the story will end here, with Epperson a hero. After all, why wouldn’t it? It’s a great, delightful story, a testament to an American child’s ingenuity. Unfortunately, there’s a follow-up detail that’s a testament to another American tradition: the profit of corporations of the work of individuals. Struck by financial hard times in the late 1920s, as the country headed towards the Great Depression, Epperson was forced to sell the rights to the Popsicle to the Joe Lowe Company of New York.
As you might imagine, since literally everybody knows what a Popsicle is, the invention only saw greater and greater success. Frank Epperson was, ironically, found frozen dead in a ditch 3 years later. OK, I made that part up. He definitely got dicked over big time though.
Good Humor, Bad Attitude
Most people nowadays know the Popsicle as an essential subset of the Good Humor corporation’s offerings, and the idea of one not being available at a Good Humor truck would be shocking. However, Good Humor and the Popsicle were, in fact, bitter enemies for decades. Good Humor, owner of a patent for frozen ice cream covered in chocolate on a stick, felt that the popsicle fell squarely within their domain. This kicked off an extended and tense legal battle between Good Humor and Popsicle, who claimed their patent was a separate type of treat.
A judge agreed, splitting the child Solomon-style to give Good Humor the rights to ice-cream and dairy-based stick-skewered sweets, while Popsicle obtained the domain of water & ice based frozen fun. For a lawsuit that involved such fun foods, the result left a bad taste in both companies’ mouths. The two would remain deeply unfriendly until 1989, when Unilever, owner of Good Humor and also roughly one third of every company in the modern world, would purchase Popsicle and integrate it with Good Humor.
Nowadays, Popsicles are a popular choice for both the over-sunned and the sore-throated, and come in an incredible amount of variety. Whether it’s a classic cherry popsicle, a shark-shaped lemon ice (shout out the GOAT Great White), or a nightmarish Spongebob that looks plucked from the streets of Silent Hill, options abound.
Which is your preferred pop to cool down as extreme weather becomes the norm in our ravaged climate? Sound off in the comments!