Posts filed under ‘Candy Nostalgia’

Tootsie Roll Tragedy: The Real Leo Hirschfeld Story

It’s 1909, and The Stern & Saalberg Company has a candy hit. Americans just can’t get enough of their “Chocolate Tootsie Rolls.” Those Tootsie Rolls have gotten so popular that they have to take out ads in the trade papers cautioning their customers against accepting inferior imitation. But who is this “Stern & Saalberg” who is taking all the credit for Chocolate Tootsie Rolls? Where is Leo Hirschfeld?

As candy nostalgists know, Leo Hirschfeld is the official hero of the Tootsie Roll saga. Today, Tootsie Roll is one of the top candy sellers in the U.S. And it all started with Leo, a poor Austrian immigrant with a dream and some family candy recipes. According to the Tootsie Roll Industries company history, Hirschfeld began selling the chewy candies in his little shop in New York City in 1896. The next thing you know, it’s 1917, Tootsie Rolls are a huge commercial hit, and the company changes its name to “The Sweets Company of America.” From that point out, the Tootsie empire grows in leaps and bounds. The story of Tootsie Roll after 1917 is one of a big candy company getting bigger.

There doesn’t seem to be anybody named Stern or Saalberg in official Tootsie Roll history. So what was happening in that murky gap between 1896 and 1917? And what happened to Leo Hirschfeld?

Let’s follow Leo along as he leaves his native Austria and struggles to make it in America. When Leo got off the steamship Neckar in the New York Harbor in 1884, he had two things: big dreams, and empty pockets. His father’s trade was candy, so that’s what he knew. He got to work. He set up shop in Brooklyn, sold some candy to the neighborhood kids. So far, so good.

But here’s where things get a little complicated. The common version of the story (here or here) is that Hirschfeld came up with the candy that would become Tootsie Rolls in 1896, made and wrapped them by hand, and sold them in his Brooklyn shop. A year later, seeing their popularity, he “merged” with Stern & Saalberg.

A nice story, right? But I uncovered evidence that blasts some serious holes in the official line on Tootsie Rolls.

In 1913, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Press sat down with Hirschfeld and three others who had shared his cabin on the Neckar in 1884. All of them were by then extremely wealthy. Each had a remarkable rags-to-riches story. One was a movie mogul, another made a fortune in fancy goods. And Hirschfeld’s story was all about the candy business. “[Hirschfeld] fought his way up until he became Superintendent of the Stern-Saalberg concern. Then he invented a certain children’s confection”…the Tootsie Roll. Notice the way Hirschfeld told the story to this reporter in 1913: first he went to work for Stern & Saalberg, then he invented the Tootsie Roll. And what’s all this about “fought his way up” in the Stern & Saalberg company? That doesn’t sound exactly like a merger of equals.

I went looking for a record of Hirschfeld in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn city directory lists Hirschfeld as a “confectioner” with a home address on Myrtle Avenue until 1890. Then in 1891, he moves to Manhattan. His new address is 356 W. 45th Street. So, no candy shop in Brooklyn in 1896. But why did he move?

I dug a little deeper, and found more clues. Leo Hirschfeld is remembered as the man with the candy recipe. But he was really an inventor, of never-before imagined candies and confections and machines as well. The U.S. Patent Office awarded one patent to Leo Hirschfeld in December 1894 and two more in July of 1895: US Patent 530,417 for a machine for depositing confectionery into molds, U.S. Patent 543,733 for a bonbon dipping machine, and U.S. Patent 543,744 which describes a novel fork for dipping bonbons. (Hirschfeld would receive at least four other patents, not a bad record for inventions.)

The 1890s were boom years for candy making technology; making money in candy was all about volume, and volume was all about the machines. A good patent could be worth a lot. But in 1894 and 1895, the U.S. Patent Office records that Leo Hirshfeld assigned half of each of these patents to Julius Stern and Jacob Saalberg. Why would he do that?

Here’s what I think happened: sometime between May 1, 1891 and May 1, 1892, Hirschfeld moved to Manhattan because he took a job with Stern & Saalberg. His Manhattan address is only five blocks from the offices of Stern & Saalberg Co. at 311 W. 40th Street. This also explains why he would assign a half interest in his patents to Julius Stern and Jacob Saalberg. They were his employers.

Well before Stern & Saalberg started selling Tootsie Rolls, they had another hot item: Bromangelon Jelly Powder.  Jelled desserts were all the rage at the turn of the century. Jell-O is the only one we remember, but around 1900 you could have your pick of such temptations as Jellycon, Tryphora, and Bro-Man-Gel-On (also known as Bromangelon). And who had invented this alchemical substance with the doubly masculine name, a pink powder which, when you added hot water, tranformed into sweet fruity jelly? Why, Leo Hirschfeld.

The first documented evidence of the existence of Bromangelon that I have uncovered is the catalog for the Nineteenth Triennial Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association held in Boston in October and November of 1895. Stern & Saalberg participated in the Exhibition to showcase their remarkable product, Bromangelon. They explained that the unusual name meant “Angel’s Food.” They may have just been trying to impress the judges with this little tid-bit. They seemed quite casual about calling it “Bro-Man-Gel-On” or “Broman-gelon” in their ads, and neither of these seems to have anything to do with angels. Angels or no, the judges, finding the ingredient “pure” and the taste “pleasant,” awarded this dessert jelly preparation a Bronze Medal.

Bromangelon was big business for Stern & Saalberg from the late 1890s through the first years of 1900. Jellied dessert powders like Bromangelon were one of the first “convenience” foods that would transform American cooking in the twentieth century. Dessert was suddenly just a matter of some hot water and some imagination. And what you could do with the stuff. An ad for Shredded Wheat Biscuits in Good Housekeeping Magazine in 1900 included a recipe and a full color illustration of “Shredded Wheat Biscuit Jellied Apple Sandwich” that involved soaking the shredded wheat in Bromangelon to startling effect. Many other recipes in popular magazines of the early 1900s included “Bromangelon” as an ingredient to whip up such novelties as “Nut Bromangelon,” “Bromangelon Snow Pudding,” or “Orange Sponge.” Bromangelon is long gone, but in the 1900s and 1910s, it was well-known, and well-used, all over the country.

Stern & Saalberg were exhibiting Hirschfeld’s jelly powder in 1895. Together with the patent assignations in 1894 and 1895 and the evidence of Hirshfeld’s move from Brooklyn to Manhattan in 1891, this adds up to a pretty clear case for Hirschfeld working for Stern & Saalberg well before anybody started thinking about Tootsie Rolls.

Hirschfeld worked his way up at Stern & Saalberg Co. In 1904, the entry for Stern & Saalberg in the Trow Co-partnership and Corporation Directory of New York City mentions Hirschfeld for the first time, naming him as one of three “directors.” By 1913, Hirschfeld is the Vice President of Stern & Saalberg, and seven hundred million pieces of Tootsie Roll have rolled out the door and into the mouths and bellies of America. Seven hundred million pieces of candy, even lowly penny candy, is lots of dollars. Hirschfeld and Stern & Saalberg did very well together.

And when did anyone start thinking about Tootsie Rolls? The Stern & Saalberg Co. applied for a trade-mark for “Tootsie” for their “chocolate candy” in November 1908. The trade-mark was registered on September 14, 1909. They stated in their application that “Tootsie” had been used in association with the candy since (drum roll, please)…September 1908.

There was a “Tootsie” in the Stern & Saalberg Co. business before September 1908, but it didn’t have anything to do with candy. Booklets printed to advertise Bromangelon featured “Tattling Tootsie,” a cute little girl whose mischief seems only tangentially connected to the joys of gelatin. We do know who this Tattling Tootsie is. Every story of the genesis of Tootsie Rolls mentions Clara, Leo’s little daughter. Her nickname was “Tootsie,” and the story goes that the candy was christened in her honor. But first, she did her time as the child spokes-model for fruity gelatin.

Did Hirschfeld make or sell a candy resembling the one that would be marketed as “Tootsie Roll” some time before? Maybe. But there is another piece of the Tootsie Roll puzzle. In May of 1907, Hirschfeld applied for a patent for a candy-making technique that would give Tootsie Rolls their distinctive texture (U.S. Patent 903,088; for more on the patent, see my Tough Tootsie, and How it Got to Be That Way). The patent was awarded in November, 1908. The Stern & Saalberg Co. started selling “Tootsie Rolls” in September 1808, and really began a big advertising and marketing push in 1909.

All the patents, trade-marks, and advertising put Tootsie Rolls in motion between 1907 and 1909. As far as I can gather from the evidence, the invention of Tootsie Rolls in 1896 in Hirschfeld’s little Brooklyn candy store is a myth.

Tootsie Rolls made Leo Hirschfeld very rich. He couldn’t have done it on his own, though. Without Stern & Saalberg, an established business with sufficient capital to launch a major candy line, Hirschfeld would have languished in his little Brooklyn house, selling bits of candy to the neighborhood kids. And without Hirschfeld and his inventions, The Stern & Saalberg Company would have gone on as a small candy wholesaler offering “Fluffy Mints” and “Diamond” brand gelatin dessert mix. But The Stern & Saalberg Company went on to become The Sweets Company of America, which in turn became Tootsie Roll Industries, a business today worth well over one billion dollars.

And what happened to Leo Hirschfeld?

The end of the story is not quite so sweet. Hirschfeld left The Sweets Company of America sometime around 1920 to start another candy venture called the Mells Candy Corporation. 1921 was a bad year. His wife was seriously ill, and recuperating in a sanatorium. Hirschfeld himself suffered from a disease of the stomach. On January 13, 1922 he shot himself in his room at the Monterey Hotel at 94th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. He died that same day. The note he left for his attorney said “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it.”

That’s the official story from his obituary, at any rate.

I think it was more complicated. By the time Stern & Saalberg reorganized as The Sweets Company of America in 1917, Stern and Saalberg were both retired. But Hirschfeld, who had been there longer than anyone else, had never risen beyond Vice-President. Others came in and took over the company. Hirschfeld was a brilliant inventor, but maybe not such a great business man. He was pushed out at The Sweets Company of America, so he ventured out on his own to start fresh with the Mells Candy Corporation. But nothing came of it. Mells was bankrupt by 1924.

What was really going through Hirschfeld’s mind that January day in 1922 when he pulled the trigger? Someone else was selling his Tootsie Rolls, and Mells Candy had nothing to show. He died wealthy, to be sure. But if he had hopes of building a candy dynasty, one he could pass on to his own children, those hopes were dashed by The Sweets Company of America.

By the way, Tootsie Roll for some reason spells Leo’s last name “Hirshfield.” This is not the way Leo spelled it in directories or patents or anyplace else. Until the day he died, it was “Hirschfeld.”

ADDENDUM: After I published this post, Steve Sheehan got in touch with me. It turns out I’m not the only one who’s been poking around in the murky Tootsie Roll past. Steve’s extensive unpublished archival research into Stern & Saalberg and related matters corroborates my findings. He drew my attention to this transcript of an 1896 New York State Assembly Hearing which names “Hirschfeld” first among some 50 employees of the Stern & Saalberg Company. Incontrovertible proof, as Steve puts it, that in 1896 Hirschfeld “was not selling candy out of his store. He was a salaried employee supervising the Stern & Saalberg line.” (Personal communication)

Related Posts:

Sources: In addition to the sources linked or referenced by name in this post, I also consulted Leo Hirschfeld obituaries in  New York Tribune 14 Jan 1922 and New York Times 14 Jan 1922; announcement of Mells bankruptcy auction, New York Times July 30, 1924; various announcements of financing and directors meetings relating to The Sweets Company of America, Wall Street Journal 1919-1920; city and business directories for New York City, Manhattan and Brooklyn.

This article was originally published at candyprofessor.com in February, 2010

January 4, 2014 at 3:26 pm 1 comment

On Pausing at the Window of Ye Olde Candy Kitchen

Today’s old fashioned candy kitchens attract customers by displaying the candy maker in action. We watch pimply faced minimum wage teens stirring the kettle or overseeing the mechanical puller, and think, “I can do that.” The Joy of Cooking still has recipes for pulling taffy and making fudge, the very kinds of candy you are most likely to find being made before your eyes at Ye Olde Candy Kitchen.

What we aren’t likely to realize is that these simple, transparent operations are the exception. Before mechanization and the de-luxurization of sugar, the art of the sugar boiler was secret and restricted to a very few. Modern candy after 1850 was a product of technological developments that quickly took candy out of home-style kitchens. The art of the candy maker was supplemented, and perhaps in our day supplanted, by  engineering.

But both art and engineering have removed candy from the realm of things we can easily comprehend and duplicate, from the days of the sugar plum through the zenith of American candy to our own globalized candy cornucopia. This is the miracle, and the marvel, of modern candy.

October 11, 2013 at 11:17 am 2 comments

Nostalgia Candies at Sweets and Snacks Expo 2011: Necco, Bosco, Fizzies

Last week’s Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago showcased some fabulous candies from the past that are just right for today, like Goo Goo Clusters and Modjeskas (see my previous post). Here’s my take on some slightly more perplexing nostalgia candies coming down the candy pipeline.

Necco Wafers: A strange story from the folks at New England Confectionery. Necco Wafers are returning to their original artificial colors, having shifted to an all-natural palette a couple of years ago. The Necco representative explained that it was like New Coke and Classic Coke: Necco is going back to Classic Necco. This one surprised me. It seems totally contrary to the whole away-from-artificial movement. But the official line is that the customers demanded it. It is an isolated case, but you’ve got to wonder if there isn’t more of this counter-revolution brewing.

In the image above, the current packaging is at the bottom (note “all natural”), and the new package at the top (“an American classic”).  The all-natural kind are still on store shelves, but will soon be replaced with the Classic. The package on the new (old) version doesn’t proclaim its artificialness, so this may be a switch with little fan-fare. If you are interested in comparing the flavors, buy an “all natural” roll now and hold on to it for a couple of months.

The difference in appearance is not dramatic. The image shows the new, artificially colored wafer at bottom. Here’s the ingredient list for the current all-natural version: sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, coco power, natural flavors, vegetable gums, natural colors (red beet, purple cabbage, turmeric, caramel color, paprika).  The new, back to the old, version adds citric acid and artificial flavors and instead of those lovely vegetable colors, you will enjoy the visual stylings of Yellows 5 & 6, Blue 1, Red 3, Red 40.

So nostalgia, it turns out, it a tricky thing. Those good old days involved a lot of chemicals.

Bosco Milk Chocolate: Speaking of nostalgia, here’s a new product that is un-ashamedly all about the packaging of nostalgia. Bosco you may recall from your childhood (or not, since if you are old enough to recall it, you probably can’t recall it….) Anyway, whoever owns the trademark now (who may or may not have anything to do with the original Bosco) has licensed it for use by Priam LLC. Priam is not actually a candy maker. Priam is a brand builder (at least I think that’s what this means: “a one stop resource solution…lending its expertise to its brand partners in the critical disciplines of sales, marketing, logistics, merchandising, graphic design, accounting and finance, and public relations.”). Priam has arranged for the wrapping of the Bosco name and logo around a bar of milk chocolate which does not, so far as I can gather, actually contain any Bosco. But this bar was a huge draw at the New Products Preview event, and everybody wanted to take a picture and take one home. We probably won’t even open it; the “value” of this candy is entirely in the wrapper.

Fizzies: These are flavored and sweetened tablets that work on the Alka-Seltzer principle to produce a glass of … beverage, I guess. I don’t have much to say about these, except that I remember them from when I was a kid and now they are back. They went off the market in the late 1960s when cyclamate, an artificial sweetener essential to the Fizzies formula, was banned. Bummer.The new version is sweetened with sucralose, another non-nutritive sweetener. We thought they were fun when I was 6, so perhaps a whole new generation of 6 year olds is waiting for this sensation.

Of course, when I was 6 we didn’t have Pop Rocks and Toxic Waste Candy and other such violent taste experiences, so Fizzies was about as exciting as it got. Will the youth of today prove too jaded for old fashioned fizz? In the Candy Professor test kitchen, the answer seems to be “yes.” My kiddie test subject yawned and walked away when the tablet fell into the water and then, well it didn’t so much fizz as fizzle. When she came back a few minutes later, it was still fizzling. Either they got the formula wrong, or we were just way more easily amused forty years ago. Against just such a possibility, the Fizzies people have come up with several cocktail recipes to keep the over-21 crowed fizzing along.

 

May 31, 2011 at 10:45 am 7 comments

Butterrrrrrscotch (Callard and Bowser, I miss you)

Each one of us has, I believe, our own personal candy Madeline. Mine is butterscotch. Callard & Bowser Butterscotch, to be precise.

If you’re old enough to think “text” means the stuff they read in church, you might remember Callard & Bowser. This was a line of toffees boxed in cigarette-style packages. The Callard & Bowser logo was a green and purple thistle. I remember a black box (licorice toffee, I think), and a silver box (maybe chocolate toffee?). But the only box I cared about was white: butterscotch. Or “butterrrrrrscotch,” as my father would tease. He wanted me to learn to roll my r’s the way he could.

Callard & Bowser Butterscotch was the flavor of my father’s love. I was three years old. Daddy would bring a box home each week on his way home from the university. And each night, I’d get a piece. The pieces were long rectangles, scored down the center and wrapped in shiny foil paper. The piece marched across the table toward me at the end of dinner, one step for each sip of milk. Finish my milk, and the prize was mine.

I still like milk (hmm, score one for Skinner). And I love butterscotch. It dawned on me recently that I hadn’t seen that C&B box in quite some time.  A little poking around revealed a sad but familiar story: mergers, acquisitions, dropping of old brands, and poof! a classic candy is no more.   

In this particular case, the corporate shell game is convoluted. Callard & Bowser was a venerated British confectioner, with origins way back in the 1830s. Today, the only C&B brand of confectionery that is still produced is Altoids, the Curiously Strong Peppermint. Rather than attempt to reconstruct the tragic events leading to the demise of my beloved butterscotch from scratch, I defer to the Wikipedia version of the eviscerating of Callard & Bowser:

Callard and Bowser-Suchard was sold by Beatrice Foods to Terry’s of York in 1982, which was then acquired by Kraft General Foods International/Philip Morris Tobacco Company in 1993. Wrigley’s of Chicago agreed to buy the C&B and Life Savers units from Kraft in November 2004 for USD$1.48 billion after beating out competitors Hershey, Mars, Nestlé and Cadbury. The purchase was completed in June, 2005. Altoids is now owned by Mars, which acquired Wrigley’s in October 2008.

Callard & Bowser is mourned by many as the finest butterscotch to ever have been made. I couldn’t agree more; remembered candies are the sweetest.

January 3, 2011 at 10:10 am 160 comments

Licky Sticky Hats

You recognize this candy, I’m sure. Mexican Hats.

But when it was first introduced by Henry Heide in 1926, it had a different name: Wetem and Wearem.

Why change the name? I’m guessing it’s because the “wetem and wearem” campaign seemed a wee bit unhygienic. In the 1920s state health departments were busy examining candy for purity and hygiene, and while the candy was usually pretty good, the problem seemed to come with what kids were doing with the candy before they put it in their mouths. Heath inspectors were especially harsh with manufacturers of “double use” candy, candy in form of toys and novelties that was designed for play. Wetem and Wearem seemed to encourage the worst kind of germy fun: licking, sticky, falling to the ground, licking and sticking again, and then pop that germy dirty gob in your mouth and begin again.

Kids were likely keep up the same thing whether they were called Wetem and Wearem or Mexican Hats or anything else. But at least “Mexican Hats” kept Heide on the good side of the Health Department.

As for the new name “Mexican Hats,” I decline to speculate. The name seems innocuous enough today, and I suspect that most candy eaters like me assume it refers to the shape of the candy only. Of course, in the 1930s it is likely that it had a strong (and negative) stereotypical connotation. But rather than attempt to flesh that out, I think I will leave the distasteful and shameful prejudices of the 1930s in the 1930s.

How do these candies taste? About like you’d expect for a candy that spends more time on your forehead than in your mouth. They’re gummy and sticky, like Swedish Fish but gluier. Dental restorations be forewarned. If you’re looking for good eatin’, look elsewhere.

Related Post: Toy Novelties: Long After the Candy is Forgotten

November 12, 2010 at 9:29 am 6 comments

Intermission: Candy is Delicious Food

Feeling peckish between features at the drive-in? Head out to the snack bar!

This intermission short, circa 1950, reminds hungry patrons that “Candy is Delicious Food. Eat Some Every Day.” Which just happens to be a slogan that the National Confectioners Association came up with as early as the 1920s to promote candy eating.

For those of you under 30, a “drive-in” is an outdoor movie theater. You pull up your car to a pole that has a speaker on a long wire. You can hang the speaker off your window. In the waning days of drive-ins back in the 1980s, the sound was broadcast over FM radio. But the scratchy, tinny mono-phone sound of the window speaker is key for the full effect. Plus the steamed up windows.

Some of my best child hood memories are of piling all us kids into the station wagon in our pajamas and heading to the drive in, where we would play in the jungle gym until dark, then settle in to fall asleep while the movie played. I think this worked pretty well for my mom, too.

If you’re nostalgic for the full drive-in experience, or want to try it for the first time, head to Wisconsin this summer. The Hi-Way 18 Outdoor Theater just outside Jefferson has the real old-time deal, window speakers and all. Hi-Way 18 is going for the full nostalgia effect with a program of vintage intermission shorts including “Candy is Delicioius Food.” The ads are old, but the films are new releases. Now Playing: Despicable Me and Toy Story 3. Perfect movies to enjoy in your car on a hot summer night while you’re eating some delicious candy food.

Here’s the Hi-Way 18 lot during the daylight hours (from www.highway18.com).

Thanks to Beth Wheelock at GazetteXtra.com for breaking this candy story!

July 13, 2010 at 12:20 pm 5 comments

The Beginning of Candy

Well, not the beginning of candy for all time. Let’s say, the beginning of the American candy industry.

1847. That’s the year Oliver Chase, a Boston druggist, came up with the idea of a machine to speed up the making of medicinal lozenges. There’s more about Chase and the invention of the lozenge machine in my first post on Oliver Chase here.

I come back to Chase today because I just recently found an image of what a “Chase lozenge” might have actually looked like:


This is an ad for the New England Confectionery Company, the inheritor of Oliver Chase’s original business. Today we assume that the Necco Wafer is essentially the same candy as Chase’s original lozenge. That’s what I thought, until I was this image.

Here we see that the Chase Lozenge was thicker than Necco Wafers. Also, in this ad, Necco lists “lozenges” separately from “wafers,” indicating that they are not the same goods.

The “Chase Lozenge” was still in the Necco line up in 1921, the year this ad was published. Necco had patented the name “Chase” and the logo with the big “C” for this candy, which tells us that they were worried about imitators who would try to profit by making similar lozenges and passing them off as “Chase” originals.

The Chase Lozenge is basically sugar paste: powdered sugar kneaded with gum arabic or gum tragcath (both edible binders) that could be molded like clay and then dried. Confectionery made of sugar paste would keep indefinitely.

So why would a druggist be messing around with lozenges, anyway? Oliver Chase, like all nineteenth century druggists, was familiar with the uses of sugar to make the medicine go down. I learned from Laura Mason’s book Sugar Plums and Sherbet about what sort of lozenges apothecaries might make in the nineteenth century. She explains that sugar paste in particular was a valuable medium for apothecaries working with only basic implements because the drug could be mixed in to the paste and the lozenges cut to regular size.  The advantage to these medicinal lozenges was that they would deliver a reasonably accurate dose, and that the medicine would be released slowly as the lozenge dissolved.

Chase was probably not the first to leave out the drugs and sell the lozenges as candy. But once the use of machinery started speeding up the process of making lozenges, they took off.  By 1890, one candy-making manual explained that machinery had transformed the making of lozenges:

Twenty years ago, lozenges were mixed and cut by journeymen confectioners…within the last few years, machinery  has been introduced which mixes, rolls, stamps and cuts, all the manual labor that is required is simply a superintendent..turning out many hundredweights a day.

I’ve seen countless variations and brands of lozenges and wafers advertised in the early 1900s. Kids would eat them in rolls, and grown ups would pass them around in the candy dish. We still have Necco Wafers today. And we still have something a lot like the Chase Lozenge.

These are just called “pink lozenges.’ I don’t see them around much. But if you find this candy, eat some and imagine you’re back in 1847.

Sources: Chase Lozenge ad appeared in Confectioners Journal Nov. 1921. Skuse’s The Confectioners Handbook (1890) is quoted in Laura Mason, Sugar Plums and Sherbet: The Prehistory of Sweets (1998), p. 148. You can shop for pink lozenges and other old fashioned candies at End of the Commons.

May 26, 2010 at 10:04 am 3 comments

Black Crows or Black Rose?

Black Crows: do you know this candy? It’s a venerable gummy licorice drop, from the same people who bring you fruity Dots. But while Dots are in every movie concession and drug store bin that I come across, I never see the Crows. I suspect they are a little less popular. After all, it’s a licorice candy for starters, not America’s favorite flavor these days. And then there is the name. Crows? I mean, those are some big and spooky birds.

I’m not the only one who thinks the name is a little strange. The legend of Black Crows is that they weren’t supposed to be named “Crows” at all. The story (and you’ll find it at Wikipedia and every other “candy nostalgia” book and web site) is that when Brooklyn candy makers Mason, Au, and Magenheimer sent out to have the first labels printed up, somehow the printer got confused and instead of Black Rose, the labels came back with Black Crows. And Black Crows it has been ever since.

It seems an easy mistake: when you say it out loud, black rose does sound exactly like black crows. But Richard, over at The Bewildered Brit, pointed out that this story seemed a little unlikely. He thought it would have made more sense to call the candy “black roses,” but “black crowses” doesn’t make any sense.  I agreed with Richard that the whole thing seemed odd. So I started looking for early evidence of Black Crows to decide for my self if the story of Black Rose made any sense. Here’s what I found.

We do know for a fact that Mason, Au applied to trademark the name “Black Crows” in 1911 (the trademark was approved Dec. 12, 1912, U.S. Serial 71058363).

In the trademark application, the candy makers assert that the name “Black Crows” has been in continuous use in commerce since 1890. That means that in 1890, they were selling the candy as “Black Crows.” No sign of “Black Rose” here.

I found an advertisement for Black Crows published in January 1919:

What is interesting here is that Black Crows are sold in bulk. They are shipped to retailers in big five pound boxes, or in forty pound cases. There is a label on the box, as you can see. But when the candy is sold to the candy-eater at the candy shop, it is going to be scooped out of the box and put into a sack. Whether the label says “Black Crows” or “Black Rose” or “Black Nose” or “Black Panty Hose” hardly matters. If Mason, Au had wanted to call their candy sold in big bulk boxes “Black Rose” back in 1890, and they got the wrong labels, why would they toss the name they had chosen when the name on the label is so irrelevant to how the candy gets sold?

As the January ad announces, Mason, Au was working on a five cent package. It came out in July, 1919. Here’s the ad:

Notice the copy reads: “No Weighing, No Wrapping, Just Selling.” In the nineteen-teens, the idea of pre-packaged candy took off. When unwrapped candy is being scooped out of glass jars or big boxes, the buyer can’t really know what “brand” the candy might be (and this was something of an issue for many candy makers who were trying to capture some market share). Boxes like this Black Crows were revolutionizing the way candy was being sold and packaged, and making the brand and the packaging more and more important to the sale.

When the candy is displayed in these individual packages, it really does matter what name is on the candy box. The individual boxes will be displayed and customers will recognize the brand based on the packaging. If the printer had screwed up all the printing on individual retail packages like this, that would have been a big deal. But in 1890, no such packaging existed.

In sum: Black Crows was the name of the candy going all the way back to 1890. n 1890, there was no such thing as a candy wrapper. The way candy was packaged and sold meant that a “printers error” for a box label would have been easy to work around. Given the absence of any actual evidence that the candy was ever called Black Rose, we can only conclude that the story is a myth.

But as I’m discovering, the candy past is as much myth and legend as it is fact. The “Black Rose” story is another of those candy fabulations, like the story of why Hershey’s named their candy “kiss,” or the story of the invention of the Tootsie Roll. They are all nice stories that add to the mystery and romance of the candy past. Candy is a special product, one we associate with pleasure and fun, and it’s not surprising that we’d hope that the stories behind our candies would be more interesting than the stories behind socks or soap.

Unfortunately, most of the story of candy in America is just the story of business: a product, a market, a sale, companies growing and prospering, or losing their foothold and failing. Not much fodder for the cocktail party circuit, alas. Pity the poor kill-joy historian who just must get it right.

So why would we need the “Black Rose” story anyway? I think it has something to do with changing perceptions of candy and candy eaters. Today, the chewy licorice gum drop is sold alongside similar sugar candies like Mike and Ike, Dots, Skittles: sure, grownups may eat it, but it’s basically kids candy. But if you look at the older packaging above, you can see it’s quite atmospheric and spooky. A century ago, candy like Black Crows wasn’t associated with children or cartoons, it was a serious candy. So a spooky black crow wasn’t so odd. But today, that image doesn’t match the idea of kiddie candies. So we have the new Black Crows logo:  a jaunty, jokey cartoon crow. And we have the legend of “black rose,” that the crow wasn’t really a crow after all.

One last tidbit: Black Crows ad in the 1920s emphasize their quality: they are flavored with real anise seed and licorice, they do not harden or deteriorate, and they are pure and wholesome. But you might be surprised about the color:

They are colored with charcoal, which is beneficial to the stomach.

I’m pretty sure they took the charcoal out some time back. But that explains the nice black color!

Sources: Black Crows ads appeared in Confectioners Journal, Jan. and June 1919. Quote from Mason, Au & Magenheimer ad for Black Crows, Confectioners Journal September 1921 p. 74.

April 28, 2010 at 8:30 am 2 comments

CandyFreak Steve Almond is Wrong

I love Steve Almond’s book Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. For me as for countless other candy lovers, Almond perfectly captures the obsessive pleasures of candy. His introduction to the history of American candy making launched me on my candy research project. As Almond continues to write and speak about candy in America, he is bringing attention to all the wonderful small candy makers still eking out a business, and maybe bringing new customers as well. So I am an enormous fan of Steve Almond.

But something has been bothering me. Take for example the recent piece Almond published in the Wall Street Journal (Jan 10, 2010) titled: “Remembrance of Candy Bars Past.” Almond sings a very particular song about American candy: a sad and mournful song about the good old candy days that have been destroyed by the evil forces of capitalism. For Steve Almond, the best days of candy were in the past.

It’s true, the heyday of American candy manufacture is long gone. After an amazing flourishing of candy making and candy eating in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, the American candy scene went into decline as local and regional candy makers were swallowed up by the “Big Three” and driven out by rising distribution and “slotting” costs.

So that happened. But does the transformation in the U.S. candy industry that Almond describes mean that the best days of candy in America behind us? That’s what Almond thinks. I think he’s wrong.

Change is not the same thing as “everything is getting worse.” When things change, usually it means that some things get better, some things get worse, and they might be better or worse depending on who you are or where you are. For example, we know of hundreds of candy bars made by local and regional manufacturers that have disappeared. But did your average American have the chance to try most of these? No.

In the glory days of American candy, many candies did have national distribution. But regional candies were just that, regional. That means that stock of a shop in Ohio would look dramatically different from the stock of a shop in California or New York or Mississippi. We’ve lost that local diversity, in this age of Mars and Wal Mart, to be sure. But if you didn’t travel around much, “local diversity” wasn’t diverse to you. Today, someone living in a city or town with a Wal Mart and a Target and a Cost Plus has enormous choice in the candies available, not just from around the country, but from around the world.

Some of the old American candies that persist struggle to make their way into the marketplace. It’s true, I can’t get a Twin Bing in my neighborhood store. That’s one of Almond’s favorite nostalgia picks. But I’ve had a Twin Bing. It’s a nasty candy bar, in my opinion: waxy “mockolate” coating and cough-syrup “cherry” nougat filling. It’s easy to think about the past in rosy tones. But the fact is, not everything old is good.

In an interview on Public Radio’s The Splendid Table (March 27, 2010) Almond laments the decline in the variety of flavors and forms of American candy and the homogenization of candies produced by big industries for national and international markets. It is true that many of the flavors that candy bar eaters of yore could enjoy are gone. Spice and floral flavors are almost extinct. We don’t see pineapple or even coconut much outside of specialty items, peach and banana almost never. But what would our 1940s friends have made of our flavor palette? We have goji berries and acai berries, dried cherries and dried cranberries, sesame seeds and hazelnut paste. None of these were flavors known to American candy in the 1940s. (For even more exotic flavor possibilities, see the latest flavor trend reports at candydishblog.com)

In fact, it’s worth remembering that pineapple and coconut in the 1930s were the “exotic” flavors, new fruits just appearing in U.S. markets, just like acai and pomegranate today. As for peach and banana, those popular “flavors” in the 1930s were made in the chemistry lab, not the orchard; the reason we don’t have them any more is because the FDA decided they were probably harmful.  and would hardly satisfy today’s more discerning taste-bud. Then as now, the basic components of candy bars were pretty much the same: chocolate, nuts, nougats, caramels, fondants, flavorings. Tastes change and markets change, some things go out and new things come in.

And what about the decline in the diversity of candy overall? Granted, when I just look at the candy bar racks at my local CVS, it looks like everything is Hershey’s and Mars. But if you look more carefully, the question of diversity is more complex. Even the big players are moving fast to bring new products to market, many simply variations on basic themes, but also looking for the next big thing. And new start ups and small candy makers can be big players in the era of the internet. Not to mention the dramatic increase in imports of foreign candies. Industry watcher Cybele May estimates there are some 10,000 candy products available on the planet at any given time. How many of those will make it to your local shop is another story, but the candy variety is indisputable.

Almond tells the story of American candy as a simple story of flourish and decline. But there are other stories to tell of the changing candy marketplace. Consolidation in manufacturing and the domination of big stores pushed many smaller American companies out in the late 20th century. But in the 21st century we see incredible variety and amazing ingenuity in the candy that is available to someone willing to poke around a bit beyond the front racks at Wal Mart and CVS. The big national trade show organized by the National Confectioners Association every May, “Sweets & Snacks Expo” (formerly CandyExpo), expects over 400 exhibitors. That’s a lot of sweets.

My favorite candy bar right now is the Lion bar, a mysteriously creamy-caramely-crunchy-chocolaty confection. That’s a British import. I never knew it when I was a kid. Where in my California suburb in the 1970s could I have found British candy? Now I can get a Lion bar right across the street from my apartment building. Not to mention dozens others I’ve never seen before.

Sure, I miss the Marathon bar. But I’m happy to try a Yorkie, or an Aero. And even though the basic $1 candy bars might be limited to Reese’s, Snickers, M&M’s, and their variations, if we expand “candy bar” to include chocolate tablets selling for $2 to $4, we’re in a whole other universe of new possibilities. We might just as well turn nostalgia on its head, and ask how we could have survived in a world without the blissful creaminess of  a Green & Black White Chocolate Bar, or the breathy bite of a Lindt “Intense Mint” Bar.

For a candy lover with a postal address and an internet connection, well, there is no stomach big enough to handle the possibilities. Check out Cybele May’s list of  “110 Essential Candies for Candyvores” at candyblog.net. Most of us will never come close to sampling the variety of flavors, textures, ingredients and styles that she lists. And that is just scratching the surface.

There’s definitely more good candy on the horizon. Nostalgia is inspiring new candies and new businesses. I’m looking forward to the release of Shelf Life, a documentary film about a Chicago candy entrepreneur who attempts to recreate a beloved candy from the past called the “Cashew Nut Crunch.” And the attention to flavor and quality that has become a part of American food expectations is creating new opportunities for candy makers. Here in Brooklyn we have some amazing candy artisans. The two women behind Liddabit Sweets sell their candy almost as fast as they can make it; they specialize in innovative caramels and re-mashes of old-style candy bars, all made with the finest and freshest local ingredients. Mast Brothers Chocolate (more photos here) is made in tiny batches by the two Mast brothers, from bean to bar. They are taking the “farm to table” philosophy and making candy out of it.

This is an exciting time for candy. These new candy makers and candy entrepreneurs are steeped in the candy past, but they are looking forward to new markets, new flavors, new technologies, new ideas, new possibilities.

Steve Almond seems so sad when he talks about the good old candy days. For him, it is all gone wrong. But if it was always better in the good old days, what’s the point in moving forward? Nostalgic pessimism can paralyze us.

I say, let’s be nostalgic optimists. Nostalgia can inspire ways of bringing the past into the present, as for many new candy makers. Nostalgia can encourage us to value and learn about the past. Nostalgia can motivate us to better understand what really was, and not fixate on what we wish. There’s nothing wrong with a little nostalgia. There’s nothing wrong with American candy either.

Related post: Langston Hughes Sings the Blues for Penny Candy.

April 5, 2010 at 8:30 am 7 comments

Hot Coca Cola

I saw this 1907 ad and all I could think was YUCK. Hot Coca Cola? There is nothing worse than that can of soda you forgot about, that sat on the counter all afternoon, and now its warm and flat and when you take a sip you sort of gag and pour the rest down the sink. And what else could “hot Coca Cola” taste like?

Well, dear reader, I am not afraid to take serious gustatory risks for your edification, so I tried it. But before I give you the hot Coke low down, maybe you’re wondering what I was wondering: why on earth would anyone even think of HOT Coke, for pete’s sake?

Soda fountains were hugely popular back at the turn of the century. Maybe you’ve seen an “old fashioned ice cream parlour” in a beach town or tourist destination. When I was a kid we had Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor: black and white tile floors, ceiling fans, Victorian stained glass, cane back chairs, and about 200 kinds of ice cream and syrup concoctions. The soda fountains of 1900 were similar: cold soda drinks and ice cream novelties, served in a sit-down parlor. Ice cream and candy usually went together. In fact, the word “confectionery” was used to refer both to ice cream and candy! Basically, sweet stuff. Besides the sugar link, ice cream and candy would be combined for another practical reason: ice cream and soda were cold, and popular in the warm seasons. And candy, especially anything with chocolate, was strictly for the cooler months. No air conditioning, remember? So if you sold soda and candy, you could keep your business afloat year round.

And then someone came up with a solution to the seasonal limits on the soda fountain: hot soda. Why not offer hot drinks for the cold season, and keep the soda customers coming all year long? The idea was to use what was on hand, but make it hot. Hot chocolate was the obvious choice to anchor the menu. Then you had a lot of possibilities for hot liquid offerings (well, not all of these would be such a hit today: beef tea (boullion), beef and celery (beef tea with celery salt), beef and tomato (with ketchup), lactated beef or cream boviline (add sweet cream to beef tea, yikes!), hot lemon, hot ginger (ginger ale), hot ginger puff (add cream and whip cream), clam bullion, tomato bullion, chicken broth, oyster broth

Hot Coca Cola doesn’t seem so odd in the company of hot lemon and hot ginger and cream boviline. So was it any good?

The report from the Candy Professor test kitchen: Actually, hot Coca Cola is a nice hot drink! The candy kid nailed it: “It tastes the same, except it is hot.” The trick to enjoying it is that you have to stop anticipating the experience of cold soda. The bubbles boil out quickly as soon as you heat it, so it is not fizzy like cold soda. Imagine Celestial Seasons “Mandarin Orage Spice” with more cherry and plum, and then add about a cup of sugar, and that’s about how it tastes. Too sweet for me, but I don’t add sugar to my coffee or tea either.

Sources: “The Hot Soda Season,” Confectioners Journal Jan. 1908, p 102; “Making and Dispensing Hot Soda” Confectioners Journal Jan. 1909, p. 80.

February 8, 2010 at 4:36 pm 7 comments

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

Samira Kawash, PhD
Professor Emerita,
Rutgers University

(C) Samira Kawash

All written contents protected by copyright. Except where noted, Candy Professor is my original research, based on archives, journals, magazines, newspapers, and other historical artifacts. You do not have permission to copy or re-post my content. If you want to refer to my work, please create a link from the blog entry and also write out the citation:
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