Posts filed under ‘History’
Today, the Hostess Twinkie is the poster-cake for processed food that has gone over to the dark side. Some 35 ingredients, rumored to be sprayed into molds instead of baked, reputed to have the shelf-life of hardtack. But this is not how Hostess began.
Once upon a time, ladies would invite their lady friends over for tea. They would wear clever hats and thin gloves and pass fragile cups from which to sip ever so demurely. With the tea, there would be cakes. Any hostess who wanted to impress her friends, and avoid vicious post-tea party gossip, would want to be sure she served only the finest.
And so, the scandal depicted at this c. 1930 tea party: “What…You bought them?”
The ad’s headline seems ambivalent: is the speaker horrified by the fact that the hostess has purchased cakes for her guests? Or is she amazed that the cakes, having been exposed as store-bought, taste so very good as to belie their humble origins?
The small print rushes to clarify: Hostess Cakes are achieving enviable success because “their flavor..their texture…their dainty appearance have been a revelation to millions of women.” Hostess promises ease, deliciousness, and most important for a generation of women struggling to create the impression of total and effortless domestic mastery, “no baking failures…a cake you can serve with perfect confidence.”
Today we’re all going back to the kitchen to make “real food.” But our 1930s fore-mothers were not so much worried about “real” or “manufactured” or “fake” in their food. What they were worried about was the very real risk that a “real” cake made in their own oven might actually be a disaster. In this context, processed and manufactured food was a solution to a serious social problem. (Of course, you could probably also argue that women wouldn’t have considered this a problem until Hostess Cakes came along and encouraged them to start worrying…)
Of course, it took a generation of chemists and food engineers to transform something like that lovely coconut layer cake into today’s plastic-wrapped snack food. But even today, no one could call a Twinkie or a Ding Dong a “baking failure.”
One thing I love about the candy business is the general spirit of fun. Granted, things get messy sometimes (witness the trail of lawsuits left by every major candy company). But generally, something about the candy trade seems to appeal especially to folks with a good sense of humor.
And sometimes humor will get you a lot farther in business than any thing lawyers might come up with. Exhibit A, The COPY Bar.
It’s 1926, and the Williamson Candy Company is flush with the success of their signature candy bar, Oh Henry! Millions sold every month. The only problem is those pesky competitors, who keep trying to grab a share of the Oh Henry! riches with cheap knock-offs. Williamson prevails in court (see my post on the suit against Oh Johnnie), but the onslaught continues.
Fighting head on doesn’t work, so Williamson goes Zen, bending like the bamboo. If everybody else is going to sell a copy of Oh Henry!, then Williamson will too, by gum. The “Latest Copy of Oh Henry!” is a Williamson original, priced at 5 cents against 10 cents for big brother Oh Henry!
This new 5cent bar is a radical departure for us. Heretofore other manufacturers have made the imitations of our product. But, in line with our endeavor to be ‘first with the latest,’ we have decided upon the policy new, even radical in the candy industry–of making our own imitations.
Williamson conceded that it wasn’t “as good as” Oh Henry! At half the price, it couldn’t be. But on the other hand, he claimed it was better than the cheap Oh Henry! knockoffs everybody else was selling for a nickel.
In tandem with the announcement of the new bar, Williamson launched the “Confectioners’ “Copy” Club.” The Club’s founding document was published in the November 1926 issue of Confectioners Journal, together with a space for a roster listing the members.
Here I transcribe the text, as my summary could never do justice to this witty attack on the trade:
Sometime ago when Oh Henry! came into prominnece, there was such a rush of imitators that the candy trade, both wholesale and retail, was seriously embarassed. Few were able to keep up with the daily growing list of imitations.
To forestall this difficulty when “COPY” begins to be copied, and also to engender a clubbier feeling among the manufacturers who copy “COPY”, we are organizing the “CONFECTIONERS’ ‘COPY’ CLUB.”
The only requisite for membership in the COPY CLUB is the manufacture of a bar similar to “COPY”… From month to month the names of the duly self-elected memers will be published in the roster of the COPY CLUB in these pages.
By this means we hope to keep the candy trade posted as to who is copying “COPY” so that there will be no difficulty in identifying the clever manufacturers who have had the originality to make a bar like “COPY”.
Candy bar business was, as this snarky ad suggests, cut throat. Margins were slim. Williamson was committed to a quality product, but that meant selling Oh Henry! at 10 cents, even as more and more bars were coming out for 5 cents. COPY let Williamson have it both ways, defending Oh Henry! while also competing for the lower segment of the market.
COPY didn’t last long, and seems to have been advertised primarily as a footnote to Oh Henry! But COPY wasn’t really so much candy as a weapon. Chocolaty and sweet pea-nutty, to be sure, but a weapon nonetheless.
Oh Henry! is not the most popular candy bar in America today, but it’s been around a while. It’s one of three major contemporary candy bars that you could have bought in the 1920s. Milky Way and Hershey bar (plain or with almonds) would be the other two. But there were others, hundreds nay thousands of others, now gone and forgotten. Why did Oh Henry! survive?
The candy bar market in the 1920s was a bit like the wild west, fast and lawless, any buckeroo with a candy kettle and a wrapping machine out to make a buck. Oh Henry! soared above the competition because George Williamson knew a few things about marketing. He bought billboards, magazine ads, newspaper spots to promote his bar. He focused on the one product. And he had some pretty innovative ideas about how to expand the market for candy bars, like a booklet of 60 recipes for cooking with Oh Henry! (see my post on Oh Henry! stuffed tomatoes here). Not surprising, there were some who figured on riding the Oh Henry! coattails to grab a little piece of the candy action for themselves.
Copying was a huge problem in the candy business. The yummiest combinations were pretty well established. And if there was already a good version of, say, peanut marshmallow chocolate bar, you could understand the temptation to just try to sell your own as “almost” that other one. Candy innovation could only take you so far. Names, colors, and packaging–the stuff of trade mark and trade dress– were increasingly important, maybe even more important than the candy itself.
The success of Oh Henry! could be measured in the proliferation of copy cats. The worst offender was “Oh Johnnie,” sold by the Uncanco Candy Company of Delaware. “Oh Johnnie” looked like “Oh Henry!” and tasted (sort of ) like “Oh Henry!”, and you had to admit that there was something familiar about the name “Oh Johnnie.” But Oh Henry cost 10 cents. Oh Johnnie, on the other hand, was half the price.
George Williamson was not happy. Lawyers got involved. Williamson sued for trademark infringement, claiming Uncanco was deliberately attempting to fool people into thinking their bar had something to do with the more successful Oh Henry! The judge agreed:
Thus far the ‘Oh Johnnie’ bar had the appearance of being the same as the ‘Oh Henry!’ bar save in size, price and possible quality. They were alike as two brothers of different years. … It would be strain upon human credulity to believe that such and so many points of similarity as here found, could innocently exist. … The only plausible purpose for the similarity was to enable the smaller bar to be passed off as the product of the plaintiff.
Williamson won, and Ucanco was found guilty of trademark infringement. The lawsuit stopped Oh Johnnie. But lawsuits were an expensive, time consuming, and clumsy way to swat at the flies of candy competition in the roaring ’20s. Here comes Oh! Jiggs. And watch out, over there is Hey Eddie! Williamson didn’t give up fighting off the copy cats, but he did change tactics.
Next post: if the law fails, bludgeon them with sarcasm.
Thanks to everyone who shared their recollections of Sunday treats, candy and otherwise.
These days, Sunday is just another day in most cities. Stores are open, brunch is in full swing, and the newspapers are fat enough to last the day long. But there was a time when some people believed Sunday should be set aside for the Lord’s Work.
Reformers back in the day looked askance at every form of Sunday pleasure. Candy was an easy target. Here is a satirical newspaper item from 1904 recounting a Sunday Candy controversy in East Orange, NJ:
DOWN WITH SUNDAY CANDY!
Just when we had all settled down comfortably to the belief that there wasn’t anything in East Orange to be reformed, a few faithful and lynx-eyed guardians of the city’s morality come along and discover that open candy stores on Sunday are playing havoc by tempting the youngsters to spend their pennies. That can never be tolerated. How are we to expect boys and girls to grow up into clean, healthy men and women if they succumb to the temptation to buy candy on Sunday? And ours is the fault if the temptation be there.
Let us to work at once! Introduce into the textbooks of the schools lessons setting forth the wretchedness and degradation which must inevitably follow the vicious habit of spending pennies for candy on Sunday. Give the youngsters overdoses of candy six days of the week, but on the seventh make them hold their appetite—and their pennies.
If there’s no other way of effecting this glorious reform we can make it an issue at the next election. “No Sunday Candy” would sweep the city.
Truth (Newark NJ weekly) , Sunday Feb 20, 1904
As part of a 1857 curriculum in “Object Lessons,” fifth grade pupils in Cincinnati, Ohio were invited to list “things to be seen.” Among the many categories, edibles figured highly. And among the edibles, of course candy.
I reproduce here the list of candies as an indicator of what sort of sweets were on the minds of American children in the mid-1800s:
Cream candy, pop-corn, peppermint, molasses, rose, clove, nut, Butterscotch, sugar plums, lemon drops, lemon candy, peppermint drops, French kisses, cinnamon, Ice-cream, wintergreen, sour drops, hoarhound, lavender, gum drops, vanilla, Rock, birch, cats-eyes, orange, cough, kisses.
This is not presented as an exhaustive list. These were the candies children spontaneously named when invited to shout out every sort. Nevertheless, there are some interesting conclusions we can draw.
No chocolate is the obvious one. Chocolate wouldn’t become common as a children’s candy until well into the 1900s.
Candy flavors are different, too. I take these to be flavors of hard candy or stick candy: peppermint, rose, clove, lemon, wintergreen, “sour,” hoarhound, lavender, birch, orange.
“Rock” refers most likely to the English version, hard candy embedded with shapes or letters that is pulled into a long rod and then cut to reveal the design in cross-section. And notice that ice cream, pop corn and nuts are included in the category of “candy” (although nut here might refer also to nut candy). These treats were sold where candy was sold, and eaten as candy was eaten, so the connection makes sense.
I ran across this list while researching the early uses of butterscotch and caramel. Here’s something else that I notice on the list: Butterscotch is named, caramel isn’t.
I think of caramel as a basic American candy. After all, Milton Hershey got his start in the 1890s selling caramels. But here in 1857 there is no caramel, only Butterscotch, an English candy innovation from the early 1800s. Caramel as a term referring to a stage in the cooking of sugar first appears in the 1700s. But caramel candy, that distinctive caramel flavored chewy morsel, seems to have emerged much later (looks like the 1880s), as a uniquely American variation of the English toffees and butterscotches.
Hershey, as you know, got out of the caramel business and into the chocolate business just at the right time. The twentieth century saw chocolate in ascent, a century of chocolate hegemony. But caramel seems to be making a comeback. Happily, even in candy nothing is eternal.
If you are interested in the common foodstuffs of the mid 1800s, I highly recommend taking a look at the Ohio lists (link here). The variety is surprising and instructive.
When I was growing up, my mother took me and my brother and sister to church every Sunday. And on the way home, we always stopped at the candy store. Each of us got 15 cents, and we could eat our spoils however we liked. We called it “Sunday Candy.”
Where did this tradition come from? I’ve met a few other people who had similar Sunday rituals, but not many, so I conclude this was not a wide-spread practice. My mother grew up in Illinois, and has a vague recollection of candy on Sundays. My initial theory was that Sunday penance at church was matched by Sunday indulgence in the bon bon box.
I’ve found some references to the idea of “Sunday candy” as a special treat in the early 1900s. Especially where pennies for candy might be hard to come by, a child might get candy once a week, on Sunday. Newspaper ads from the period also promote special items for the “Sunday candy feast,” suggesting that it was a frequent custom for special family Sunday dinners to conclude with candy.
But I’m also beginning to suspect that Sunday Candy, like just about every other American candy tradition, was an invention of the publicity department at the National Confectioners Association. V.L. Price began beating the drum for holiday candy promotions in the 1920s (Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day, and more). And soon, candy promoters realized that boosting candy sales on holidays was only the beginning.
In 1928, the NCA sponsored a co-operative advertising campaign with the slogan “Sweeten the Day with Candy!” Ads in major magazines like the Saturday Evening Post encouraged Americans to enjoy candy every day. And as part of this campaign, ads included the reminder: “Take Home Candy for Sunday.” Promotions along these lines, with the same slogan, had appeared locally beginning in the early 1920s; the NCA was attempting to make the Sunday Candy idea a national tradition.
Here are some illustrations of this theme that appeared in the trade publication Confectioners Journal. These might have been used as window cards in candy stores or as images for ads in local papers.
Both these designs emphasize a connection between church and candy, without specifying what that connection might actually entail. The stained glass window and angelic choir certainly lend the product an aura of sanctity. Will candy eating get you to heaven a little faster? Or is candy a bit of heaven on earth?
Notice the promotion doesn’t say “buy candy on Sunday.” “Blue laws” limiting trade on Sundays were increasingly in force in the 1920s, and so in many communities most stores were closed. The idea was that mother or father would stop at the candy store on Friday or Saturday and stock up with boxes of family favorites for Sunday.
I found reference to one shop that offered a special weekend promotion: a pound each of chocolate, hard candy and gum drops for 99 cents. A mere three pounds of candy to get the family through the weekend.
Candy for the household at the week-end, a package of candy, good candy, that can reasonably be counted upon to please the taste in candies of all the grown-ups, the children, and any possible casual visitor, just the right variety and not too much of it, yet enough and not too expensive—that has become another of the housewife’s important problems in this candy-eating age.
Anyone else remember Sunday Candy? I’d love to hear your stories!
Quote is from “A Candy Method of Loft’s Inc.” Confestioners Journal Aug 1925, p. 105.
Here at Candy Professor, we’re on the elusive trail of “Tootsie.”
The official Tootsie Roll story is that candy inventor Leo Hirschfeld named the chewy chocolate bite after his little daughter Clara, nickname “Tootsie.”
As I discussed in the previous post, a little girl called “Tattling Tootsie” was used to promote an earlier Stern & Saalberg product, Bromangleon dessert powder (which was also a Hirschfeld invention). But Tattling Tootsie doesn’t seem to have been used to promote Tootsie Rolls.
But here’s an intriguing image, courtesy of John and Stephanie Cook, who found this advertising card used as the backing for an old print:
Is this Tootsie? The verse doesn’t seem to suggest a name; here’s a best guess reconstruction suggested by the Cooks:
Why has the hungry [little girl] begun her lunch so [soon?]
Because you cannot [make her wait] for Tootsie Rolls [till noon.]
I don’t know what Clara Hirschfeld looked like. But this Tootsie Roll tyke in no way resembles Tattling Tootsie used in the Bromangelon ads.
The Bromangelon Tootsie is from around 1907. As for the Tootsie Roll girl, there are several clues that help date this ad. The wrapper in the image was introduced in 1913. The earlier wrapper said “Chocolate Tootsie Roll”, the new wrapper and packaging introduced in 1913 added “Chocolate Candy Tootsie Roll.” I do know that in 1919 the wrapper looked totally different, but it is most likely that by 1917 at the latest Tootsie Roll was not using this style wrapper. So I would put this placard as being before WWI, but no older than 1913.
I think these two little Tootsie girls tell us more about changing images of girl-hood and advertising than they do about Clara Hirschfeld. The earlier Tattling Tootsie is explicitly connected with the home. Her outfit and pose are unambiguously feminine. She is prim and proper: her dress and hair are neat and controlled. Bromangelon was marketed to housewives as a convenience food, so perhaps the neat and prim little girl also suggests the successful mother who keeps her child looking so well-tended.
But the later Tootsie Roll girl seems more mischievous. The bow in her hair assures us she is a girl, but her drooping socks and ambiguous clothes suggest more outdoors and active adventure. Her school books locate her outside the home, away from parents and parental controls. And this girl is a little naughty: she won’t wait to eat her Tootsie Roll. This ad may have been aimed as much at children as at adults; in this period, it would not have been uncommon for a child to purchase such candy on her own, much as suggested in this ad.
By the way, I believe the artist has taken some liberty in drawing the Tootsie Roll candy to monstrous scale for visual effect. The tube in the girl’s hand seems to be immense, bigger even than her school books. But actual Tootsie Roll candy as you would have found it for sale in this period was probably more like 3-4 inches long.
Thanks to John and Stephanie Cook for their permission to share this image and for their enthusiasm for candy sleuthing.
- Tootsie Roll Tragedy: The Real Leo Hirschfeld Story
- Tough Tootsie, and How it Got to Be That Way
- Chocolate? Tootsie Roll
- Tootsie Roll: Penny Candy That’s Not
- Tootsie, Bromangelon, and a Foul Stench
Before Tootsie Roll, there was Bromangelon.
Bromangelon, that delicious jelled dessert powder that was a staple of American kitchens in the 1890s and 1900s. Jell-O barely existed; it was Bromangelon that housewives turned to for their surprising dessert effects.
If you haven’t read the pre-history of Tootsie Rolls, you can read my Tootsie expose here. But today I want to fill in a few choice details about Bromangelon. The sugar-flavor-gelatin product was the original break-out hit of the Stern & Saalberg Company, who would later introduce Tootsie Rolls to the world.
Tootsie Rolls did not exist prior to 1909. But Tootsie did; Tattling Tootsie, that is. Tattling Tootsie, a cute little dark-haired girl, was the brand icon for Bromangelon. A generous reader sent me images of a promotional booklet for the dessert product, featuring little Tootsie herself tattling away.
The booklet continues with several pages of doggerel accounting Tootsie’s tendency to tattle on members of the household and their love of Bromangelon. I date this color advertising booklet to around 1907; a similar black and white “Tattling Tootsie” booklet refers to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, so later than that date. The black and white version mentions fewer flavors, and has some details in the drawing that suggest an earlier printing, so I’m dating this color version as later, but prior to Stern & Saalberg’s venture into Tootsie Rolls in 1909.
Legend has it that Tootsie was the nickname for Clara, the daughter of Leo Hirschfeld, who invented both Bromangelon and Tootsie Roll. Perhaps. But Tattling Tootsie looks more like the work of an ad agency than the inspiration of a candy inventor. Tootsie was a popular nickname, something you might call just about any cute girl (as in “hiya, toots!”). Tootsie Roll is a cute name for a candy, sure, but the image of a girl in the style of Tattling Tootsie does not appear to have been associated with the candy in its early advertising.
Bromangelon was at the cutting edge of a new style of cuisine, food from chemicals and packages that assembled quickly and inspired radically new interpretations of traditional ways of eating. Salad, dessert, breakfast and dinner blended together under the ministrations of a package of Bromangelon and a creative assemblage of other ingredients.
The original Bromangelon was pink, of undisclosed flavor. By the time of this booklet in the early 1900s, several flavors were available: Lemon, Orange, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cherry, Peach and Chocolate. The Chocolate flavor, a late addition to the line up, is especially interesting in light of later Tootsie Roll developments. As for the fruit flavors, they may have been more or less recognizeable; the science of flavoring was at this time in its infancy, and terms like “peach” and “lemon” were more likely to signify aromatic chemicals than fruit essences.
Not everyone was a fan of Bromangelon. The name itself is a puzzle. Publicity tended to include the explanatory breakdown “bro-man-gel-on” suggesting that consumers were having trouble remembering or pronouncing the neologism. From The American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record (1903), this fanciful Greek-ish etymology:
What is Bromangelon?
A foul spirit. From bromos, a stench, and angellus, a spirit.
Thanks to Louise Volper for the Bromangelon booklet. She has a great blog at http://monthsofediblecelebrations.blogspot.com
I have been investigating the term sugar plum, which refers to a panned seed or nut candy (comfit or dragee) from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Think a small jaw breaker, but with a caraway seed at the center. Sugar plum could also refer in the nineteenth century to confectionery in general, or more narrowly to the sorts of candy that are smaller and rounder. My essay on sugar plum should be appearing on The Atlantic web site shortly, but meanwhile here I wanted to share some interesting descriptions of candy manufacture that I came across in my research.
An 1868 magazine article on “Sweets and their Manufacture” introduces readers to the innovations in confectionery made possible as a result of steam heat. Here is a detailed description of the process that yields the sugar plum, in this case based on an almond:
The veritable sugar-plum, or almond-drop, is made in a very interesting manner. A number of almonds, after being coated with a little gum to catch the white sugar, are thrown into a deep pan surrounded with steam. This pan revolves sideways at an angle of forty-five degrees. As it revolves the almonds, of course, tumble over one another, and whilst they are doing so, the workman pours over them from time to time liquid white sugar, allowing a sufficient time to elapse between each supply for the sugar to harden upon the comfit. In this way it grows by the imposition of layer upon layer, until it is the proper size. By this simple motion, the sugar is deposited in the smoothest and most regular manner.
This is a description of the process confectioners call “panning,” and the finished product will be familiar to modern readers as a species of what we call “Jordan almonds.” A similar process is the basis for the broad category of comfits.
Even with the aid of a mechanized rotating pan and steam heat, comfits are a tedious and exacting enterprise. And when it was done by hand, comfit making took days. Although the author of this 1838 recipe insists that comfits may be “easily made at home,” the extensive instructions belie this easy reassurance:
A preserving-pan must be provided with two handles, through which a string is fastened that runs across, which is connected with a pulley attached to a beam, so that at the least touch, the pan rises or falls, or swings backward and forward. … There must be, besides this pan, two saucepans, one to hold a slightly warm solution of gum arabic, the other to contain some syrup which is boiled during a quarter of an hour, when some of finest white starch of wheat is dissolved in water and mixed with it. Under the swinging-pan there is a charcoal fire at a sufficient distance to give it only a gentle heat. The seeds of which the comfits or sugar-plums are to be made, are put into the swinging-pan when it is just warm. A ladleful of the solution of gum is poured over them, and the seeds are briskly stirred and rubbed with the hands till they feel dry; a ladleful of the syrup mixed with starch is next poured in, and the seeds again rubbed and stirred till they are dry. This process is repeated until the comfits have undergone the first operation. They are then set in a stove to dry. Next day the operation is repeated, the quantity of starch being varied and the syrup made stronger; and so on every day till the comfits are of the requisite size.
… Good sugar-plums take five or six days in making. … Comfits are made with caraway seeds, cardamums, bleached almonds, and a variety of other things.
According to Laura Mason in The Prehistory of Sweets, prior to the invention of labor saving machinery the techniques for making comfits were closely guarded and few had the expertise to make them. So comfits or sugar plums were a luxury good, most likely to be found in an aristocrats pocket or between courses at a very decadent royal banquet. Isn’t it nice to think that jelly beans and M&Ms, our contemporary version of panned candies, have such a noble ancestry?
Related post: Candy Confetti
If you’d like to experience a bit of Victorian Christmas this year, you might visit the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, Indiana. Historical interpreters at this museum are re-creating some late 19th century holiday traditions for their visitors. One might surprise you: Christmas candies in the shape of cockroaches!
Marcia Young of the museum explained to a reporter for the Illinois Times:
“Candy was a big deal to kids. Getting candy only happened on very special occasions,” says Young. For Christmas, Victorians gave them lots of candy in stockings or as gifts. Some of that candy was made to look like items in nature. “This was a time in which a lot of exploration is occurring all over the globe,” Young says. “Victorians are very excited about what they’re finding. They’re fascinated by the natural world, even the smallest parts, like insects.” That fascination inspired their candy-making, so they created [candies] that looked like carrots, lobsters, rabbits, beetles, spiders, and even cockroaches.
Today the Davis Mansion is offering a modern interpretation of those Christmas Cockroaches, made of molded chocolate. But the candies the Davis children received long ago would not likely have been made of chocolate. The museum has a letter received by Sarah Davis that describes a “sugar cockroach” received by a young friend in Massachusetts.
A “sugar cockroach” would be a molded fondant candy, similar to the inside of a Peppermint Patty. Candy corn was invented around the same time; like cockroaches, corn was another of the plants, animals and insects that were popular shapes for the candy of the day (see my article on the history of candy corn at TheAtlantic.com). Now, I wonder why candy corn was so popular, and candy cockroaches just didn’t catch on? And what about candy bedbugs?