Looking at today’s sugar stacked storefronts, it can be easy to forget that there was once a time when we weren’t all addicted to bright colours and chemicals. Now you can pop into any corner shop and pump yourself full of all sorts of unusual ingredients. At the pinnacle of this glistening, sticky pyramid lies one drink that delicately toes the line between food and drink. Beloved by kids and regressing adults alike, the Slurpee is one of the world’s weirder food creations.
Slurpees come in an array of odd flavour combinations, ranging from blue raspberry to pina colada, all in a texture that puts you in mind of an Arctic glacier in the grip of global warming. For something that’s so innately horrible, the world gets through a hell of a lot of Slurpee. Every year, nearly 8,000,000 gallons of the stuff are guzzled down around the world - enough to fill 14 olympic-sized swimming pools. However, were it not for a quirk of history, our barely frozen love affair would have never got off the ground.
The Slurpee saga begins in 1950s Kansas. Dairy Queen owner Omar Knedlik was a down-on-his-luck ex-soldier with a mountain of debt and a flagging ice cream business. Despite the national craze for cold sodas, Knedlik could not afford to capitalise by buying a fountain - instead forced to store bottles of imported soft drink in his industrial freezer to keep them cool. Times were tough.
To make matters worse, disaster struck when Knedlik’s freezer inadvertently malfunctioned and went into overdrive. Though he rushed to save his soda, the machine had rendered his stock slushy and barely drinkable. Apologetically, he served them up anyway to his thirsty customers. Much to Knedlik’s astonishment, the icy sludge was an instant success. His life, and the path of American history, would never be the same again.
As word spread about the weird new drink, more and more people flocked to Knedlik’s store. It soon became apparent that the world’s first frozen mogul would need a way to scale up. Contacting the John E. Mitchell Company in Dallas, Knedlik drew up the blueprints for what would become the universal Slurpee machine. Featuring two nozzles for different flavours, an internal freezer and a tumbler to prevent the whole mixture solidifying, Knedlik was soon able to deliver semi-viscous sugar syrup to the masses. He named his creation ICEE.
Around the same time, a small coffee and convenience franchise was about to break into the big leagues. 7-Eleven were operating in a little over 100 locations across America by the early 50s, but their sights were set much higher. Pursuing a sales strategy focused on original and unique products, the various 7-Eleven marketing agents combing the country soon stumbled across the increasingly popular ICEE. Seeing its success, the bigger business wanted in on the action.
By 1965, 7-Eleven had negotiated a deal with the ICEE Company. The store could sell Knedlick’s invention, on the condition that the two products never directly competed head to head, that the product only be sold at 7-Eleven locations and that 7-Eleven come up with a new name for their version. Eagerly, they agreed. In a matter of weeks, the ICEE was wheeled out across 7-Eleven’s American stores under the all-new brand name Slurpee. The legend was born. It hasn't looked back since.
Though the Slurpee is today part of the fabric of pop-culture, it’s story serves to remind us that not every great invention is the brainchild of a genius. Sometimes, luck is just as important as skill. All you need is perseverance, commitment and a broken freezer.