The History of the Slurpee

The date 7/11 carries weight in my life. In my youth, I’d often look forward to the few days a year where local stores gave away free stuff. Each and every July 11th my friends and I would migrate down Street Road in Bucks County. We would venture into the three or four 7-Eleven locations in the area, trying every flavor of Slurpee for free.

To the uninformed, on 7/11 the convenience store 7-Eleven gives away their famous Slurpees for free. The transaction is the same every year. You walk in, take a Slurpee, and walk out. No checking out for inventory sake, simply frozen drink anarchy. Sweet beautiful free anarchy.

Where did the “Slurpee” come from?

The origin story of the Slurpee itself is not all that magical. The name Slurpee was coined by an ad-agency. The first flavors were Coca-Cola and Cherry, which still remains the norm. The machine that creates Slurpees was invented by “ICEE” a company named from a “name that company contest.”

The Shaved Ice Origin

So, allow me to jump further back in history to the origins of shaved ice. I make this leap because indulging in cold treats seems as basic a human concept as they come. However, in considering an idea like shaved ice or consumption of ice you have to consider that throughout time most people didn’t have regular access to ice.

The origin stories of shaved ice lead back to Taiwan and Sicily. There probably is no consequential origin as the idea of eating ice is so primitive and natural. The very “Italian Ice” we consider water ice today has a number of cultures claiming to be the “true inventors” of water ice.

Shops in Sicily stand that began selling Italian Ice as early as 1915. The treat was a long standing tradition in the area. Vice points out that Arab migrants to Sicily would use the snow atop Mount Etna to “develop the dish that led to the frozen fruit ice treat we know today.”

Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong – 1972

However, it’s evident that other parts of the world were utilizing the art of shaved ice. In Asia, the dessert dish Bao Bing has been using shaved ice since the 7th Century AD. A dish so prominent that in 1972, when Richard Nixon met with Mao Zedong in China Bao Bing was served. Above all my point is that whether you’re an Arab migrant in Sicily, Mao Zedong, or me riding my bike on Street Road, shaved ice is universally loved.

Back to Slurpees

My favorite type of invention is an accidental invention. In the late 1950’s a man named Omar Knedlik, whom owned a Dairy Queen became frustrated about his frequently malfunctioning soda fountain. As any rational man would, Omar put some soda bottles in the freezer to sell while the machine was down. After becoming known for having drinks that were slightly frozen over, Knedlik created the first ever ICEE machine using his car’s air conditioning unit.

This machines primary function was to combining and freezing a flavor mix with water and carbon dioxide. Then Omar took his invention from Kansas City to Dallas to be perfected, by 1965 7-Eleven licensed the machine and brought Slurpees into fruition.


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Steve Norris


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