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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Here in Washington it's been hot, it's been humid. It's summer and time for some flavored ice frozen to a stick. WEEKEND EDITION essayist, Bonny Wolf, remembers the Popsicle on its 100th birthday.

BONNY WOLF commenting:

It happened by accident. In 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson left a cup of soda with a stir stick in it on his porch in San Francisco. That night there was a record cold snap and in the morning Frank found his soda frozen to the stick. He called his new invention an `Eppsicle' and started making them for his friends. Nearly 20 years later, Frank was running a lemonade stand at an amusement park when he realized the commercial possibilities of his accidental invention and applied for a patent. He changed the name to Popsicle after his children's frequent requests for `Pop's sicles.' And the name, like your tongue to ice, stuck. Not long after, Popsicles were sold by the first ice cream man from a horse-drawn cart to children in Nebraska. By 1928, Epperson had earned royalties on more than 60 million ice pops.

Later, innovation was spurred on by hard economic times. During the Great Depression, twin Popsicles were invented so two kids could share an ice pop for a nickel. The Popsicle quickly joined baseball and apple pie as an American icon.

Then there's the Popsicle stick. What would summer camp arts and craft be without the Popsicle stick? The slim birch sticks are the main construction material for fleets of toy sailboats, pencil holders for Dad and picture frames for Mom. And then there the practical uses for Popsicle sticks as finger splints, bookmarks and garden markers. Some intricate Popsicle-stick creations have found homes in folk art museums.

Over the last century more than 100 Popsicle shapes and flavors have been made. According to the Unilever Ice Cream company, which now owns the Popsicle name, we still love the classics. Cherry is number one. Orange is second and grape, root beer, banana and lime remain mainstays of the `pop'-ulation. For Popsicle eaters who like variety, there are now flavors of the month, sugar-free Popsicles and ice pops shaped like "Dora the Explorer" and "SpongeBob SquarePants."

The Popsicle has even found its place as a barometer of American life. Social scientists have invented what they call a `Popsicle index,' the percentage of people in a community who believe that a child can leave the house, go to the nearest place to buy a Popsicle and come home alone safely, complete with sticky fingers, orange lips and two small pieces of wood to add to the collection for building a Popsicle-stick fire engine on the next rainy day.

HANSEN: Washington writer Bonny Wolf loves root beer Popsicles. It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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