Posts filed under ‘1890 to WW I’

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)

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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

Sunday Candy, Round Two

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

February 8, 2011 at 10:24 am Leave a comment

Another Tootsie Girl

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.

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January 25, 2011 at 11:10 am 1 comment

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

January 21, 2011 at 10:56 am 1 comment

Cockroaches for Christmas (candy of course)

Cockroach

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?

December 14, 2010 at 8:59 am 1 comment

Candy and Halloween Parties before 1920

In North America, Halloween parties have long been a favorite way to mark the holiday. The first descriptions of parlor gatherings come from the 1870s; by the 1890s the festivities were well established, with a variety of favorite games and activities and of course foods and decorations. Then as today, Halloween parties have always had a place for candy. But the kinds of candy, and the role of candy in the festivities, have changed pretty dramatically.

From the American Girl’s Handy Book (1888), a full chapter on festivities for “All Hallow Eve”, wherein candy makes a brief appearance:

Putting aside conventionality and dignity as we laid aside our wraps, ready for any fun or mischief that might be on hand, we proceeded down-stairs and into the kitchen, where a large pot of candy was found bubbling over the fire. This candy, poured into plates half-full of nuts, was eaten at intervals during the evening, and served to keep up the spirits of those who were inclined to be cast down by the less pleasing of Fortune’s decrees.

Ideas for a Halloween party in 1894 published in The American Agriculturalist included these proposals for refreshments: nut cake, pop corn, molasses candy and “as many more goodies as one cares to provide.”

In these pre-1900 party scenes, the candy references are decidedly turned toward the home-spun. Molasses candy could be purchased, but it was also a simple candy to make oneself, by cooking down molasses to candy consistency. As the American Girl’s Handy Book suggests, home candy making was a fun activity, especially suited to the colder fall and winter months.

The use of manufactured candy at Halloween only slowly became a common practice.  The children’s magazine St. Nicholas describes in detail the decorations, refreshments, games and entertainments for a children’s celebration of Halloween in 1905. Candy makes one brief appearance as part of the dining table décor: “The dining-table was set with a group of carrot candlesticks and bowlfuls of apples, nuts, grapes, and candy.” The story does not specify what sorts of candy are in the bowls. Here is an image:

Is there even any candy in this picture? The predominance of apples, grapes and nuts suggests that candy’s place in the 1905 Halloween decorating and treating scheme was minimal.

Where purchased candy is incorporated into the party, it is not necessarily any special kind of candy. For example, in 1917, the Kansas chapter of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity reported:

On October 20 the annual tacky party was given. Arriving in a hayrack, the guests entered the house by way of the kitchen door. The rooms were decorated with corn and witches in true Halloween fashion. Popcorn, apples, penny candy sticks, doughnuts, pie, and cider were served. The party was one of the most successful in the chapter’s history.

The “penny candy sticks” featured in Phi Gamma Delta’s Halloween romp were just about the most ordinary sort of candy you could find in those days. And in these Menus for Halloween Suppers featured in the October 1915 issue of American Cookery (the magazine of the Boston Cooking School) the proposed molasses candy, caramels and marshmallows were year round popular commercial candies. Notably, one of the three menus has no candy at all:

Hot Bacon Sandwiches
Potato Salad
Pickles Olives
Toasted Marshmallows
Pop Corn Balls
Apples

Hot Cheese Sandwiches
Cucumber Sandwiches
Yeast Doughnuts, Sugared
Coffee
Molasses Candy
Caramels

Oyster Salad
Buttered Rolls
Chocolate E’clairs
Gingersnaps
Coffee
Roasted Chestnuts
Apples

Today, many Americans and parents especially are beginning to feel like the candy at Halloween has gotten a little out of hand. These party descriptions and ideas from a century ago might be good inspiration for a way of celebrating a less candified Halloween.  Halloween Donuts, anyone?

More: An excellent book on the history of Halloween in North America (but not, alas, much on candy) is Nicholas Rogers, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night (Oxford University Press, 2002).

October 22, 2010 at 9:30 am 9 comments

Retailing Halloween in the 1920s

One of the fun things about looking back at the beginnings of the commercial candy trade is to see how modern ideas about marketing, sales and promotion first began to take hold. Today we are so accustomed to the annual round of seasonal sales and holiday decorations. But in the early 1900s, these were new ideas for retail.

In a 1917 issue of The National Druggist (St. Louis, MO), for example, a writer explains the basic idea of holiday promotion:

Holiday times are always good times for business. In the first place, people are then in a spending humor. “Other days they go around with their pockets buttoned up tight,” says an old druggist. “On holidays they open them.” … The point is that it will pay a retail merchant to capitalize the holidays as they come along, that is, to catch people while they are in a spending humor.

The description for window display possibilities for Halloween from this same article gives a useful description of the kind of commercial decorations that were widely available from stationery and novelty shops in this era:

Halloween gives us a fine opportunity for working up timely business. The wholesale stationers and novelty houses supply a big line of Halloween favors, place cards, paper table covers, paper napkins, noise makers, Halloween hats and a variety of Halloween decorations. Halloween suits for small children are coming into vogue now and some good sales may be made. Halloween is always a great time for window displays. The season’s colors, yellow and black, are extremely effective.

Interesting to note the reference to “Halloween suits for small children.” Although trick or treating was not yet invented, it was popular in some cities and towns to parade about or to go visiting door to door on Halloween. Here is an early glimmer of the costume business that will become so central to Halloween in our day.

Publications for soda fountains and candy shops made similar efforts to persuade business proprietors of the necessity of dressing up for the holidays. In the October 1921 issue of  The Soda  Fountain (New York, NY), a column urges “More Window Displays Needed”:

Window displays and fountain decorations are more important factors in business than is generally realized and the establishments which make use of them to the fullest extent are loud in their praise of them as business-getters.

This column offers some ideas for Halloween display as well:

Halloween, with its traditional orange and black color schemes, its pumpkins and black cats and witches, offers the excuse for any number of effective decorative schemes. With these displays may be joined various devices for attracting trade: souvenirs, special dishes, contests, etc., may all be tied up with the Halloween displays. Special candy sales, using appropriate containers are effective and often used to attract attention.

Soda fountains often sold candy as well, so the reference to special candy sales is not unusual. But it is notable that while special sales are mentioned, special candies are not.

While many small businesses seem to have been timid about taking advantage of holiday themes, some retailers in this era were extremely creative and adventurous in mounting impressive seasonal displays. A 1918 story in The National Drug Clerk (Chicago) describes in detail the Halloween display of one large New York druggist:

The ceiling and walls of the window were covered with grey crepe, and were cleverly decorated with black witches sailing on their brooms, black cats, and yellow pumpkins. To give a different effect, some of the witches were sailing in aeroplanes, and had a black cat sitting on one of the wings.

In the middle of the window was the customary large pumpkin. The eyes, instead of being square, were large and round.and long eyebrows tilting down toward the nose, were painted in, in black. The nose was cut in a V-shape, with black whiskers twirling around the mouth. The eyes were illuminated with tiny red lights.To the left of the pumpkin was a large mask (about two or three times the size of a regular mask) resembling a pirate. … To the right of the pumpkin was a mask resembling the Giant in “Jack the Giant Killer.” …  Suspended on different colored strings, which hung from the ceiling, were numerous kinds of masks of regulation size. 

On the floor of the window, which was also covered with grey crepe, were dainty little printed invitations. Some of the invitations were decorated with black cats while some were plain. Here and there were favors for the party, consisting of tiny boxes of candy in the shape of wishing wells and cats, whistles shaped like witches on their brooms, small dolls dressed up as witches and apples made of a wire frame, covered with red transparent paper, and filled with candy.

Leaning against the walls were books of games, conundrums and some of the popular ghost stories and superstitions connected with Hallowe’en.

This is a display for a druggist, not a candy store, but it is nevertheless striking that candy is so inconspicuous in the display. Druggists were perhaps the next largest retailers of candy, after specialty candy shops.Yet in this display, candy is only featured as the filling for party favors.

I imagine these paper-covered wire frame apple favors as the ancient ancestors of today’s trick or treat plastic pumpkin buckets. A century ago, kids would take home an apple’s worth of candy corn from their Halloween festivities. Today, we fill those huge pumpkins to the brim.

October 20, 2010 at 10:30 am 3 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

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