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Coffeyville man creates ICEE

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, April 16, 2012, at 12 a.m.

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Ad Astra

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating Kansas history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: To the stars through difficulties.

It was an idea born as a fluke.

The soda fountain in Omar Knedlik’s Dairy Queen in Coffeyville was old and persnickety. And, Kansas summers were invariably hot and dry.

Omar Knedlik, a World War II veteran who’d invested in a dream and who wasn’t about to quit because his soda fountain was on the brink, knew one thing — his customers expected cold drinks — and quickly.

So, he made do.

He went out and bought dozens of different flavors of soda, which of course, back in the late 1950s and early 1960s came in bottles. He shoved the soda in his deep freeze, taking care the bottles didn’t explode, but assured the soda would cool down quickly.

Some of the contents of those bottles turned to slush — but in the heat of the rush hours at his Dairy Queen, he had to serve them anyway.

And that’s when he learned an important discovery: many of his customers preferred the icy colas over the fountain sodas.

Using an old ice cream machine, Knedlik began tinkering, hoping to produce the icy and slushy soda concoction on demand.

It was second nature for Knedlik to tinker with the machines. He’d grown up on a farm near Barnes and, after the war, owned several ice cream shops before moving to Coffeyville. He would also invent a machine that tilted industrial-sized jugs of soda syrup to make pouring the contents easier.

By the time Knedlik was working on creating a slushy soda on demand, he knew well the process of refrigeration. He took a stainless steel barrel and wrapped coils of Freon coolant around it.

He described the process for the Coffeyyville paper:

“A pre-mix of most any flavor is placed inside the machine. There it is put under pressure. Any liquid increases in density when pressurized. Release of the pressure causes it to freeze.”

His machine froze the drink at a cool 28 degrees as it was poured into a cup.

Soon, he was advertising his new invention as “The Coldest Drink in Town.” Root beer was the first flavor, according to an article in the Kansas City Star. Knedlik soon partnered with Dean Speery and contracted with the John E. Mitchell Co. in Dallas to sell the machines.

At first, he wanted to call the new drink “Fizz’’ — except unfortunately for Knedlik that name was so similar to another well-known drink of that time by Kellogg, “Fizzy Drink Tablets.”

How do you in one word describe a drink that’s kind of like a snow cone only with finer ice particles and has a carbonated bite?

He held a contest and “ICEE” became the winning entry.

ICEE soon became a favorite Baby Boomer drink as machines began appearing in convenience stores throughout the nation beginning in 1960.

In 1965, 7-Eleven began installing the machines in its stores. Corporate officials renamed the drink “Slurpee” because of the sound it made when sipped through a straw. 7-Eleven first marketed some of the flavored drinks under the names of “Fulla Bulla,” “For Adults Only,” and “Kiss Me, You Fool,” according to an article written by Rob Lammle, “The Cool History of the Slurpee.”

7-Eleven’s website claims the most favorite Slurpee flavors now are Coca-Cola and Minute-Made Cherry.

Knedlik retired in 1967 after also inventing the Mix Blending Pump for serving soft-serve ice cream, and the Baby Cannon Fishing Rod Holder.

He died in 1989 in Joplin, Mo.

And, in 1994, 7-Eleven trademarked the term “brainfreeze” to describe that painful head sensation that comes from drinking a Slurpee way too fast.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com

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