Campfire in the Pantry (Marshmallow Chronicles, Part V)
When the Imperial Candy Company/Redel Candy Corp. of Milwaukee launched their new marshmallow line in 1917, they were clearly thinking about just one thing: Campfires. Marshmallow and campfires were the peanut butter and jelly of the ‘teens, and so they named their new confection “Campfire Marshmallows.”
The earliest packaging encouraged marshmallow munchers to roast the goodies around the flaming logs, or at least to imagine a forest surround. Here is a 1918 ad that sets the sylvan tone:
Although the campfire image suggests a rough masculinity, marshmallows were frequently marketed in ways that connected their appearance and texture with qualities of women and children. For example, a competing brand put out by the manufacturer of Cracker Jack was called “Angelus” and featured a cherubic little girl as the trademark. Along similar lines, in this 1919 ad Campfire brand makes a saucy connection between the puffy white mounds of marshmallow and the little cheeks of these cute rascals:
We can see in these ads that something dramatic has changed between 1918 and 1919. The 1918 box is really emphasizing the campfire theme. It even has the slogan “you can toast them if you like.” In contrast, the 1919 package was simplified and streamlined. And that wasn’t the only change afoot at Campfire headquarters.
In 1919, Campfire broke ranks with the leading marshmallow manufacturers. It launched an audacious new marketing campaign with one aim: to stock every pantry in America with marshmallows. American cooks had been experimenting with marshmallows for more than a decade, to be sure. (On scientific cookery at the turn of the century and the culinary rise of the marshmallow, see my post on Candy Salad). But Campfire wanted more: to redefine marshmallow altogether, to push marshmallow out of the candy store and into the baking aisle.
Campfire acted on multiple fronts to push marshmallow forever more onto grocery shelves. They changed the shape of the marshmallow to round, the better to cook with. Before that, marshmallows sold as candy were square. And they put the marshmallows in six ounce boxes, rather than the traditional candy-serving of two and 3/4 ounce. They launched a new advertising campaign which promoted marshmallow desserts: jellies and cakes and parfaits. And they put out a cook book featuring both familiar and entirely new recipes “showing the many uses of Campfire in preparing dainty desserts, cakes, puddings, etc.” The booklet was described in ads such as the one above, and included in the marshmallow package.
This 1920 ad features an even more elaborate dessert display, and the explicit suggestion that Campfire marshmallows deserve a permanent place in the kitchen pantry:
There was much to be gained in this push into the kitchen. As an admiring article in Printers Ink explained:
It is easy to see why Campfire keeps entirely away from the confectionery idea and bases its whole appeal on cooking and baking. … Regarded as candy, marshmallows would be purchased only semi-occasionally. Looked upon as a cookery staple most valuable in the preparation of new and dainty dishes it can have a steady demand.
But Campfire did not entirely abandon its marshmallow roasting history. Ads in Boys Life Magazine in 1920 and 1921 reminded Scouts of their summer camp marshmallow pleasures. In an early example of “kid-fluence” marketing, Campfire counseled:
Tell mother about these tempting Marshmallows today. Tell her there’s a recipe folder in every package. But be sure to tell her to get Campfire–the kind of Marshmallows you had at camp. (see the ad here)
Campfire Brand marshmallows today are manufactured by Doumak, Inc. It was Alexander Doumak who invented the modern extrusion process in 1948. Since 1900, marshmallows had been made using the starch mogul system, which involves dropping marshmallow goo into starch molds and letting it set. Doumak came up with the revolutionary idea of squeezing the marshmallow mixture out into a long tube and cutting it into pieces. It was faster and easier than the starch moguls. And that is the marshmallow we have today: tubes of white puffs in a sack, and sold as grocery.
Sources: All advertising images appeared in Confectioners Journal in the years indicated. “Changing a Confectionery into a Staple Article of Cooking,” Printers Ink, Jan 27, 1921 p. 97-100. For a detailed explanation of the modern marshmallow manufacturing process, see How Marshmallows are Made.