The Truth About The 11-Year-Old Who Invented Popsicles

If you were to ask most kids to name one of the world's greatest inventions, they'd probably list the Popsicle. Sweet, cold, and fun to eat, people have been sucking (or chomping down on) this popular snack for over a century. Popsicles are such a perfect dessert for kids that they could've been designed by one, and in fact, they were. 

Of course, you probably know that old story: back when you were in second grade, at least a few adults probably regaled you with the tale of how some young whippersnapper once invented Popsicles, sold them across the neighborhood, and made bank ... the implication, of course, being that you're wasting your time with those expensive LEGO sets, when you could be inventing things and paying the mortage for your parents. Uh-huh.  Dubious suggestions aside, there is some truth to this wacky old yarn, but nobody ever tells you about the sad ending. 

The "Epsicle" was a homemade invention

It all started in 1905, according to NPR, when 11-year-old Frank Epperson mixed some sugary soda powder with water, and when he went to bed, forgot his concoction outside. The next morning, the stirring stick was frozen inside it. So — in a gesture that only seems obvious in retrospect — he held the icy mixture by the stick, and licked it off. Yum. Figuring that other folks in San Francisco might also like it, Epperson froze more such mixtures, and sold them around the neighborhood as "Eppsicles," I.E., Epperson + icicle. Get it?

Honestly, for as much as this story is mythologized today, it isn't that unusual. Kids "invent" crazy-cool things all the time. What makes ol' Frank's story unique is that he was clever enough to keep selling Eppsicles into his late twenties, and he eventually applied for a patent. By this time, though, say that Epperson's own children wanted him to change the name: they liked calling it a "Pop's 'sicle." Good call, kids.

How Epperson lost his Eppsicles

Sadly, there's one thing that lecturing parents don't know realize about this supposedly heartwarming story: it didn't end well for Frank Epperson. In 1929, Epperson went flat broke, according to the New York Times, and was forced to sell the rights to his creation to the Joe Lowe Corporation. This company, then, went on to widely distribute Popsicles across the country. Looking back on the whole thing, Epperson was filled not with victorious pride, but regret. As he later said, "I was flat and had to liquidate all my assets. I haven't been the same since."

So, perhaps, the common decision to hold up Epperson's story as some bootstrapping, idealized vision of the American dream is a tad hypocritical, considering his true trajectory was, more accurately, a brutal illustration of the unfairness of American capitalism. As for Frank Epperson? He died in 1983, at the age of 89.