It’s the week of Fourth of July. And while we appreciate you being here, we really hope it’s from some stretch of sand or some body of water relaxing enough that your problems can be put on the same kind of ice as the booze in the cooler next to you. If not, throw on your shades anyway, and join us for our weeklong package, “Life’s a Beach,” a celebration of all things sand, sun and summer. Of course, if you’re already on vacation, you’re welcome, too — just be sure to reapply another layer of sunscreen, as these pieces burn bright. Read all of them here.
One day in 1905, Frank Epperson, an 11-year-old boy in Oakland, California, accidentally left a cup of soda outside in the cold. It was made from a powdered mix, so the cup also had a stick in it for stirring it up. The next morning, of course, Epperson found his soda frozen solid. Curious if it still tasted good, he removed it from the cup, took a lick and voilà — the popsicle was born.
For years, Epperson made the treats — originally called “Epsicles” — just for his friends. When he became an adult, though, he filed a patent for the “Popsicle” in 1924, after a name change was suggested by his children. From there, the popsicle became an immediate success.
That, at least, is the official origin story of the popsicle, according to the Popsicle brand, as well as multiple media sources like NPR and the History Channel. Honestly, the whole bit about a kid leaving a cup outside in the cold sounds just a little too cute to be true. But the patent part is definitely impeachable. You can see it here, and it’s brilliant in its simplicity:
What’s also true about the popsicle is that it forever changed the way we eat frozen desserts. After Epperson’s success, people began putting sticks into all kinds of frozen treats, which together became known as “popsicles,” regardless of whether or not they were made by Epperson’s Popsicle brand or not. As such, over the last century, these refreshing snacks-on-a-stick have come in all shapes and sizes — from rocket-shaped pops to sherbet popsicles featuring just about every superhero, cartoon character and flavor imaginable.
In a way, then, Epperson didn’t just create a snack — he created a canvas for all kinds of foods. And so, to properly honor his impact, I’ve assembled this gallery of popsicle patents from the past 100 years with one patent per decade. By no means is this meant to be a definitive history — I’ll leave that to the imagineers at the Popsicle company. Instead, it’s a tribute to the creativity people have contributed to popsicles generation after generation.
Our summers never would have been so chill without them.
1920s: The Popsicle’s Murky Origins
In addition to Epperson’s cutesy story about inventing the popsicle, the Good Humor company laid claim to the frozen dessert-on-a-stick idea a full year before Epperson got his patent. But because he had already been serving them up for years, there was a dispute as to who actually came up with it first.
The two companies spent years suing each other until they eventually came to a settlement where each would do their own thing, with Good Humor sticking specifically to ice cream and Popsicle laying claim to sherbet and frozen products made from syrup and water. The details of the case are a bit complicated, but if you’re interested in what the Good Humor patent looks like, here it is, complete with the process on how to make a chocolate-covered ice cream bar.
1930s: The Popsicle Takes Shape
In the early years of the popsicle, innovators were mostly sticking to cylindrical and rectangular cube shapes. This octagonal patent by inventor Leonard B. Krick, however, seems to be one of the first to break that mold (literally). While there would still be a long way to go until we had Batman and Sonic the Hedgehog-shaped popsicles, the 1930s seems to be where the shape-shift began.
1940s: The Sundae on a Stick
In the 1940s, inventors began to experiment even further. This patent is by Harvey C. Gibson, who devised a multitude of ways to stuff an ice cream pop with ingredients you’d use in a sundae, like chocolate, marshmallows or peanuts.
1950s: The Dripless Popsicle
Beyond the many patents for popsicles, there exist a number of patents for ways to prevent popsicles from dripping all over your hands. Among the more interesting examples is from 1954, when Esber E. Moubayed created a popsicle holder designed to catch the liquid as it melted. Like every other drip-preventing popsicle device, this one didn’t seem to take off.
Why all of these inventions seemed to be doomed is unclear, though I’m willing to speculate that it’s because of cost. Popsicles are a cheap snack, and it’s unlikely people want to spend more for them because of some plastic contraption at the bottom.
1960s: Rocket-Pops Aplenty
The space race of the 1960s influenced everything, including popsicle production. During this decade, I found at least a half-dozen rocket-shaped popsicle patents, but the greatest one was the Bomb Pop from James S. Merritt. Still in production today, the Bomb Pop was the original red, white and blue popsicle, that filled you with a sugar rush and patriotic pride all at the same time.
1970s: Yeah, That’s a Foot
This is when the trend of creatively shaped sherbet popsicles began to emerge. Strangely enough, some of the first ones were shaped like body parts — e.g., a patent for a fist-shaped popsicle and another for a foot popsicle complete with a gumball toenail.
1980s: Cartoon Popsicles Arrive
The 1980s is when you began to see cartoon character-shaped popsicles. Some of the earliest were the Pink Panther and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, both by Blue Bunny. I couldn’t find patents for those — trust me, I looked hard, especially for the Ninja Turtle one — but I did find this little frog popsicle.
1990s: For the Sneakerheads
Similar to the 1970s foot popsicle is the sneaker popsicle from the 1990s. No, I don’t know why food companies think kids want to chow down on feet.
2000s: Stick Innovation
This is a 2009 patent for a popsicle with an edible stick made of candy, designed by Earl E. Patton and Ernest Jerold Case. I support this idea wholeheartedly and wish it had taken off.
2010s to Present: Peace Be With You
Along the lines of helping the environment by eating our popsicle sticks so they don’t end up in landfills, we could also use a good dose of peace these days. And as this Andrea Phillipa Wyse’s 2020 design demonstrates, is there really any better way to bring peace than with a popsicle?