Halloween is coming. Trick-or-Treat and … CANDY!
It’s hard to believe, but back in the 1950s, Halloween wasn’t really a candy holiday.
Before the 1940s, most Americans had never heard of trick-or-treat. And as trick-or-treat caught on after World War II, treats were various and mostly not candy. Typical treats included cookies, popcorn balls, nuts, coins, and also jelly beans and candy corn, loose and unwrapped. And of course the occasional rock.
Life Magazine doesn’t have any ads for candy that mention trick-or-treat before 1953. In the October 26, 1953 issue, Fleer Dubble Bubble ran an ad that said “Treat the Kids this Halloween with Dubble Bubble.” The accompanying drawing features a woman handing gum to a pack of costumed kids. There’s a little black cat sitting at her feet. Think “Bewitched” but brunette.
Mars, Inc. was another of the very early manufacturers promoting candy for trick-or-treat. The October 25, 1954 issue of Life features an ad for Milky Way bars promoting the “Haunting Flavor” of its “three layer treat.” The image shows a ghost eating a Milky Way. Fleer Dubble Bubble also ran an ad in the same issue with a masked trick or treater ringing a doorbell, a clever visual reference to the early “gangster” origins of trick-or-treat.
The association of candy with Halloween was not obvious to everyone, though. Other products pitched trick-or-treat as an occasion to spread their own kind of goodness. The October 25, 1954 issue of Life included a Kellogg’s ad for cereal Snack-Paks that reads “Sweet treats for little kids!” and shows a woman handing a box of Frosted Flakes to the Trick or Treaters. In 1959, the October 26 issue featured trick-or-treat theme ads for Hawaiian Punch (“treats for thirsty tricksters”), Kool Aid (“loot for the trick or treaters”), and my own personal favorite for weird Halloween tie-in, Dutch Masters Cigars (costumed kids hold a cigar box out to dad: “No trick…all treat”).
Anything could be a Halloween treat. And candy advertised around Halloween might not even make a Halloween reference. In 1954 and later years, Brach’s ran an ad for chocolate peanuts which made no mention of the season or the holiday. Mars ran an ad for the Mars bar in the October 29,1956 issue, but it is a general ad that makes no reference to Halloween.
Most candy in the 1950s, even if it was advertised for Halloween, didn’t have any special packaging or wrapping. The first ad I’ve found for specially packaged trick-or-treat candy bar miniatures is from Curtiss, in 1960: “the goblins ‘ll get you if you don’t treat ’em right!” Mom is holding a bowl with assorted Baby Ruth and Butterfinger bars. They are “miniature” compared to regular, sure, but kids in those days were getting a “mini” about three times the size of today’s Halloween treat size!
(CORRECTION Oct 15, 2010: I have since found ads much earlier mini-bars advertised for Halloween, as this from 1951 (Hershey’s “mini,” “small size” Baby Ruth and Butterfinger [Curtiss]. Were there others in the 1950s? When did the mini size become wide spread?).
I found these pictures of some of the earliest candy packages that refer explicitly to trick-or-treat, both from the mid 1950s:
This Heath package is from 1955. It is a regular 24 box of Heath bars, with a special sleeve that could be removed if the merchandise stayed on the shelf after the holiday. This kind of multi-purpose package suggests that Halloween wasn’t sending candy flying off the shelf.
This hexagonal carton is an award winning package distributed by the Sierra Candy Company in 1956. Its terribly clever: ears sick out the sides for a comic effect, while a menacing toothsome grin and googly eyes offer a peek a the candy inside.
Sources: Life Magazine courtesy of Google Books (tip: to see a larger image of the ad, click on the single page view in the Google viewer after clicking my link); Confectioners Journal Sept. 1955 p. 24, April 1956 p. 36.