The Sweet Mistake


There’s no denying it: the dog days of summer are upon us once again. As we sweat and swelter, many folks find comfort in a classic summertime treat. Yet few know a forgetful child invented it.

One day in 1905, 11 year-old Frank Epperson had a hankering for a sweet drink. He went to the back porch of his Oakland, California home and poured a packet of fruit flavoring into water (similar to today’s Kool-Aid). Then he mixed it with a wooden stirring stick. His mother called him for a chore and he promptly forgot about the drink.

It was very cold that night. When Frank returned to the porch the next morning, he found the stick had frozen to the drink, protruding like a handle. The proverbial light bulb went off in Frank’s head.

He experimented by using special molds and smaller sticks until he produced the ideal snack. Frank called his new creation the Epsicle, a combination of Epperson and icicle. For years, it was strictly a family favorite.

In 1922, Frank’s treat made its public debut when he served Epsicles at a fireman’s ball. They reportedly created “a sensation.” He heard opportunity calling.

In 1923, Frank began selling Epsicles at an amusement park in Alameda, California. Again, people loved the frozen novelty on a stick. So, the next year he received a patent for “the Epsicle ice pop” and began selling it to grocery stores, soda fountains and ice cream shops.

But this time sales were flat. Frank couldn’t figure out what he was doing wrong.

His children came to the rescue. The problem was the name, they told him. It didn’t make sense. So, Frank took their advice and rebranded it as the Popsicle. And that changed everything.

But Frank has other problems. The real estate company he owned fell on hard times, forcing Frank to liquidate all his assets. He sold Popsicle in 1925 to the Joe Lowe Company in New York. And that’s when sales really took off.

In 1939, the popular kids’ radio program Buck Rogers In the 25th Century introduced Popsicle Pete, who told listeners they could win prizes by mailing in Popsicle wrappers. Popsicle Pete proved so popular, he appeared in the company’s advertising for 50 years.

There have been many popular variations over the years. Fudgsicles, Creamsicles and Dreamsicles. But nearly 100 years later the original Popsicle outsells them all.

Frank Epperson wasn’t a rich man when he died in 1983 at age 89. But there are types of wealth that can’t be measured with money. Six generations of childhoods were made sweeter and had more smiles thanks to the simple treat of enjoying an ice-cold Popsicle on a blisteringly hot day. By that criterion, Frank Epperson was richer than a king.

Not bad for a kid who simply left a drink mix on his back porch on a cold, cold night.

Did you find this enjoyable? Please continue to join me each week, and I invite you to read Tell it Like Tupper and share your review!

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2 thoughts on “The Sweet Mistake

  1. sam Clifton

    Sorry, Mark, but Pilgrims were two years later than settlers in Virginia who marked the
    first Thanksgiving in November, 1619. Virginians didn’t make a big deal out of it, but
    the Plymouth Rock folks mark November 1621 and are better at PR promotion than Virginians.
    Sam Clifton, Richmond, Va.

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Sam. Belated apologies for taking so long to reply. Speaking as the descendent of Virginia colonists, I’m familiar with the 1619 celebration. Thanks for writing!

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