Oliver Chase and Necco Wafers: Where It All Began
In 1847 in a small drug store in Boston, Oliver R. Chase turned the crank on his latest invention, a device that would press and cut candy lozenges. As the machine-cut sweets emerged from the press, the modern world of candy was born.
The lozenge cutter probably wasn’t much to look at, just a small table-top, hand operated machine, similar to a large pasta maker. Chase could not have known as he watched the first batch of opaque disks emerge from the machine that he was changing candy forever. The lozenge cutter was the first candy-making machine. Out of that little device arose the American candy industry, and the commercial manufacture of candies on larger and larger scales.
Oliver Chase wasn’t really in the candy business. He was a pharmacist. But in the nineteeth century, if you wanted something candy-ish, the pharmacy was the place to go. Pharmacists had for centuries been using sugar to “make the medicine go down.” Sugar disguised the often bitter or unpleasant tastes of medicinal herbs and compounds. And for many maladies, sugar itself was viewed as a beneficial drug. Chase’s first “lozenges” were sold to soothe the throat or to settle the stomach. The line between “drug” and “candy” was, in those days, pretty fuzzy. (Come to think of it, we’re still a little worried about the “drug”-like qualities of candy, but that’s for another day…)
If you’re wondering what that 1847 lozenge might have tasted like, it’s easy to find out. Just run down to the store and buy a roll of NECCO Wafers. These chalky candies seem peculiar today, but in the late nineteenth century many similar candies were made and sold, and they were very popular. Chase was making basically the same recipe in his pharmacy; once he could automate the cutting of the pasty dough, his production took off, and with in a few years he had a flourishing candy business, Chase and Company, the first in a group of companies that would come together as the New England Confectionery Company, or NECCO.
More: Michael Nusair, who took the fabulous photo at the top of this entry, reviews NECCO Wafers at candyrageous.com