Will Radcliff, 74, Creator of the Slush Puppie, Dies
By PAUL VITELLOSEPT. 22, 2014
Flavored ice drinks had been around since the Romans, and machines had been churning them out under various brand names for almost as long, it seems, when Will Radcliff, a peanut salesman, had the ice beverage inspiration that made him rich.
He called it a Slush Puppie. Thirty years later, when he sold the company he had founded to make and market the product, the Slush Puppie had become a staple among aficionados of brain-freezing supersweet drinks all over the world.
Mr. Radcliff, who died on Thursday in Cincinnati at 74, was inspecting a slush-making machine he had come upon at a trade fair in Chicago in 1970 when the idea struck him: “I could sell a drink for 10 cents, and make 7 cents” on each sale, he told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998.
Other products like it were available — Slurpee was being sold by 7-Eleven — but to his mind they were not being marketed well enough to spread the word about the pleasures of flavored ice drinks.
“Nothing was being done to make it take off,” he said. “There was no magic.”
Will Radcliff Credit Cincinnati Enquirer, via Associated Press
So Mr. Radcliff, who had sold vacuum cleaners door to door before becoming a six-figure earner as a peanut seller in the 1960s, began studying the aesthetics of flavored ice drinks. He reviewed the options on texture (shavings, granular mush, ball-bearing-size ice balls), flavoring (supersweet? sweet with a dollop of tartness?) as well as drinking containers and certain intangibles.
“Believe it or not,” he told The Enquirer, “we have people who buy it because they say they love to hear that ice hit the cup.”
Arriving at the best slushlike drink he could concoct in various flavors, he founded the Slush Puppie Corporation in Cincinnati, adopting a floppy-eared cartoon dog as its symbol. He went on to create a worldwide franchise and distribution system.
As the company grew, he expanded its catalog to include Thelma’s frozen lemonade, Pacific Bay Smooth-E, Lanikai Frozen Cocktails and other products. The Slush Puppie is now sold around the world at convenience stores and gas stations and from vending machines.
The Mueller Funeral Home in Mason, Ohio, confirmed Mr. Radcliff’s death. His daughter, DeeAnn Radcliff Harmon, told The Associated Press that he died in a hospice, where his health had declined after a fall.
Credit Slush Puppie
“He could sell anything to anybody,” she said.
Willard Lawson Radcliff was born in Dayton, Ky., on Dec. 20, 1939, and grew up in Cincinnati. He graduated from Western Hills High School there in 1958.
As the oft-repeated story goes, his sister, Phyllis Radcliff Crawford, and their mother, Thelma Radcliff, helped create the name Slush Puppie during a brainstorming session over a six-pack of beer on the porch of his Cincinnati home.
The company, founded in 1970, became a $25 million-a-year business before he sold it in 2000 for $16.6 million to the London-based Cadbury Schweppes, the parent company of Dr Pepper and Seven-Up. The J&J Snack Foods Corporation of New Jersey bought Slush Puppie in 2006.
Besides his daughter, Mr. Radcliff is survived by his sister; a son, Chris; a brother; and four grandchildren.
After selling his company, Mr. Radcliff bought 3,500 acres of pasture and wetland in Florida’s Lake and Marion Counties. On his death, under an agreement he had made, all but 500 acres of
the land is to become the property of the St. Johns River Water Management District, a public water authority.
A version of this article appears in print on September 23, 2014, on page B17 of the New York edition