How Popsicles Were Accidentally Invented By An 11-Year-Old Boy

Popsicles and the lazy, hazy days of summer go hand in hand, but the conveniently portable frozen treats on a stick weren't always so ubiquitous. In fact, the very idea of dipping a stick into a sweetened liquid and letting it freeze was an accidental discovery. We owe the fruity treats all to an entrepreneurial 11-year-old boy who left a mixture of water and sweet soda powder (mixing stick inside) out on a cold San Francisco evening, where it froze overnight. After this bit of kismet in 1905, young Frank Epperson had the idea to whip up more batches, name the frozen confections Epsicles (after himself, naturally), and sell them to his peers. 

While he quickly recognized the cleverness of the idea, he didn't quite know where to take it from there. He was content running the business within the bounds of his neighborhood for almost two decades before it occurred to him that expansion was the natural next step. Finally, in 1923, he applied for and was granted a patent for the Episicle and began producing the frozen treats in a variety of flavors, opening a storefront at nearby Neptune Beach, then known as "West Coast Coney Island." The name Popsicle was another inadvertent discovery. By the 1920s, Epperson had kids of his own who called him — you guessed it — Pops. The name stuck, and the treats he created were still able to bear his name. 

Not quite a fairy-tale ending

Just two years after securing a patent for his invention, Epperson sold the Popsicle brand to the New York-based Joe Lowe Company, a bakery and ice cream concern. Sadly, what should have been a small victory was actually the act of a desperate man. After the transaction, Epperson reportedly stated, "I was flat and had to liquidate all my assets. I haven't been the same since." The buyer capitalized on the market for frozen confections, selling Popsicles for five cents apiece, establishing the brand as a leader in the frozen dessert category, and securing its place in Americana.

No longer under the purview of Epperson's happy accidents, the Joe Lowe Company was forced to innovate when even frozen sugar water was a luxury during the Great Depression with twin popsicles.  Saving the trouble and cost of individual wrapping, these laterally joined pair of pops were so two kids could share a Popsicle for (nearly) the price of one. In 1965, the Joe Lowe Company sold Popsicle to Consolidated Foods. Other transactions and acquisitions occurred until, in 1989, the current owner Unilever bought the brand. 

Frank Epperson may be gone, but he's not forgotten. Epperson died in 1983, and his body is interred at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California where his gravesite was at one time featured on a tour, along with San Francisco food icons Domenico Ghirardelli and Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron, whose bodies are also buried at the cemetery.