How a Distracted 11-Year-Old Invented the Popsicle

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If you’ve been beating the heat this summer by enjoying a flavored ice pop or two, you’re certainly not alone: More than two billion Popsicles are sold every year—and it’s all thanks to an easily distracted 11-year-old boy.

As the official Popsicle story goes, in 1905, young Frank Epperson of San Francisco was using a stirring stick to dissolve powdered drink mix into water when something else caught his attention. He ran off, forgetting the concoction on his porch. It was a particularly chilly night, and when Epperson rediscovered the drink in the morning, it was a frozen mass of flavor with a convenient stirring stick handle protruding from it.

Skeptics aren’t so sure that it really happened that way, saying that temps in San Francisco simply didn’t drop low enough to freeze anything back in 1905. But even if it’s just a good PR story, there is a nugget of truth: Epperson did, indeed, invent the Popsicle. After years of making the frozen treats for friends, and eventually his own children, Epperson filed for a patent in 1923. Though he had been calling his creations “Eppsicles,” he changed the name for the patent because his children always asked for “Pop’s sicles.”

“Popsicle” is a trademarked name, by the way—and because it’s well on its way to becoming a genericized trademark, Unilever vigorously defends it. People’s Popsicles, a Brooklyn business that makes artisanal ice pops with seasonal fruit, found this out the hard way in 2010. After a threatening cease-and-desist from Unilever, the company changed its name to “People’s Pops.”

Unfortunately, Epperson and his family aren't the ones benefiting from the brand name these days. After taking a hit in the stock market crash of 1929, Frank Epperson sold the patent. "I was flat broke and had to liquidate all my assets," he later said. "I haven't been the same since."