Oliver Chase and Necco Wafers: Where It All Began

October 2, 2009 at 7:36 am 6 comments

In 1847 in a small drug store in Boston, Oliver R. Chase turned the crank on his latest invention, a device that would press and cut candy lozenges. As the machine-cut sweets emerged from the press, the modern world of candy was born.

The lozenge cutter probably wasn’t much to look at, just a small table-top, hand operated machine, similar to a large pasta maker. Chase could not have known as he watched the first batch of opaque disks emerge from the machine that he was changing candy forever. The lozenge cutter was the first candy-making machine. Out of that little device arose the American candy industry, and the commercial manufacture of candies on larger and larger scales.

Oliver Chase wasn’t really in the candy business. He was a pharmacist. But in the nineteeth century, if you wanted something candy-ish, the pharmacy was the place to go. Pharmacists had for centuries been using sugar to “make the medicine go down.” Sugar disguised the often bitter or unpleasant tastes of medicinal herbs and compounds. And for many maladies, sugar itself was viewed as a beneficial drug. Chase’s first “lozenges” were sold to soothe the throat or to settle the stomach. The line between “drug” and “candy” was, in those days, pretty fuzzy.  (Come to think of it, we’re still a little worried about the “drug”-like qualities of candy, but that’s for another day…)

If you’re wondering what that 1847 lozenge might have tasted like, it’s easy to find out. Just run down to the store and buy a roll of NECCO Wafers. These chalky candies seem peculiar today, but in the late nineteenth century many similar candies were made and sold, and they were very popular. Chase was making basically the same recipe in his pharmacy; once he could automate the cutting of the pasty dough, his production took off, and with in a few years he had a flourishing candy business, Chase and Company, the first in a group of companies that would come together as the New England Confectionery Company, or NECCO.

More: Michael Nusair, who took the fabulous photo at the top of this entry, reviews NECCO Wafers at candyrageous.com

Entry filed under: 19th Century, Candy Making, Heroes and Personalities. Tags: , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leona Flores  |  October 5, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    I dunno, CandyProf. Something about Necco wafers (especially the black ones) is not completely unlike that of chalk on the blackboard when it makes that *special* screeching sound. Who ever thought that eating sweetened chalk would sell? Personally, I hate ’em. But those valentine hearts are of a similar texture and I really like those. Maybe it’s just the messages that makes them tasty.

    • 2. CandyProfessor  |  October 6, 2009 at 7:45 am

      Thank goodness for candy progress! Would you believe that back in the 1900s wafers were one of the most popular kinds of candy: some of them were Hub wafers, Stark wafers, Sugar Moons, Rex Wafers, and my personal favorite, “Surprise Wafers.”

  • 3. The Beginning of Candy « Candy Professor  |  May 26, 2010 at 10:05 am

    […] 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. […]

  • 4. Rebecca  |  October 31, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    For some reason I love them – especially the ones flavored like clove. When I gave one to my husband he asked, “why are you giving me an antacid?”

  • 5. Marty  |  February 14, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Necco wafers were my father’s favorite candy, so we had them a lot when i was a kid, still love ’em. If you want to see what gum paste is capable of do a search on pastillage, a french style gum paste used for decorations and show pieces. Gum paste sculptures have their own catagory at the culinary olmypics held every for years in munich germany

  • 6. Steve C.  |  December 17, 2014 at 3:23 am

    Man, you’re makin’ me hungry. My town has a handful of stores that have Necco classic wafers* for just under a buck (though another has ’em for the ridiculous price of TWO bucks). In 1971(?) I had some calcium wafers that were very very Necco like, like Oliver Chase might invent. Not surprising given what you reported about their origins (or their pepperint mink colored wintergreen* flavor*)

    *The eight classic color/flavor matchups..
    Orange is, well, orange.
    Green is lime.
    Black is liquorice.
    White’s cinnamon.
    Pink’s wintergeen.
    Violet is clove.
    Yellow is lemon.


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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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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.

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