Hershey’s: Why a Kiss is Just a Kiss

March 3, 2010 at 8:32 am 17 comments

Have you ever wondered why Hershey’s Kisses are called “kisses”? Here’s the official answer from Hershey’s Inc:

While it’s not known exactly how KISSES got their name, it is a popular theory that the candy was named for the sound or motion of the chocolate being deposited during the manufacturing process.

Well, as for the first part, that “it’s not exactly known,” I can’t dispute that. Hershey’s has been planting their chocolaty kisses on the collective lips of America since 1907. No one alive today was witness to that first chocolate blob, or the “eureka” moment when someone shouted “It’s a Kiss!”

But that part about the sound of the chocolate dropping onto the conveyor belt? I’m afraid I’m going to have to pop a big old hole in that bubble of a story.

The fact is, back in 1907 you had your choice of kisses. There were generic flavored kisses like Cocoanut Kisses, Molasses Kisses, Nut Kisses, simple candies that anyone might make. Then there were the fanciful brand name Kisses: Sun Bonnet Kisses (National Candy Co, Chicago); Miller’s Violet Kisses (George Miller & Son, Philadelphia);  Blue Bell Kisses (Robt. F. Mackenzie Co, Cleveland), Honey Corn Kisses (Wm. J. Madden & Co NY); Nethersole Kisses, Moonlight Kisses (United States Candy Co, Cleveland); Elfin Kisses (Caldwell Sweet Co, Bangor Maine); Heckerman’s Lucky Kisses: 5 cent box “assorted selected flavors.” My personal favorite wasn’t around in 1907, but I’ll mention it anyway since we’re on the topic of Kisses. The Novelty Candy Company offered around 1915 a pack of three flavors, cinnamon, molasses, and vanilla called Tom, Dick and Harry Kisses, “the kiss you can’t afford to miss.”

So when Hershey’s came up with a little bite of chocolate, calling it a “chocolate kiss” was sort of obvious. A candy “kiss” was just another name for a small bite sized candy, typically something with a softer texture. There were lots of other names for small bite sized candy at the time: drops, buttons, blossoms, balls. There was nothing at all special  in 1907 about the name “chocolate kiss.”

In fact, the rival chocolate company H. O. Wilbur and Sons was the one who had come up with a proprietary name for their own bite sized chocolate: Wilbur’s Chocolate Buds. Wilbur had taken the important step of trademarking the name “Bud” for its chocolate in 1906.

But just as with today’s “xerox” and “kleenex,” the term “chocolate bud” was quickly coming to mean any sort of chocolate drop, and imitators were rushing in to sell their own “buds.” Things got so bad that Wilbur went to court to get an injunction against competitors trying to pass off their look-alike products as genuine Buds. Trade magazine advertisements warned dealers against  accepting imitations and insisted: “there are no buds but Wilbur’s.” Ads taken out in popular magazines cautioned candy lovers to watch out for “counterfeits” and make sure their Buds were genuine Wilbur Buds.

Scribner's Magazine ad for Wilbur's Chocolate Buds, 1911

When people talked about “chocolate buds” in the 1900s, its pretty clear that they are talking about Wilbur’s product or something very similar. A 1914 recipe for an ice cream sundae, for example, suggests sprinkle of “chocolate buds” on top. A 1911 publication suggesting ideas for money-making proposed that a woman going into the candy business might stock her store with “the finest chocolate buds, marshmallows, and different size cakes of the best milk chocolate.”

In contrast, the term “chocolate kisses” could mean just about anything small and chocolate flavored. In addition to references to candy, I found the term in late nineteenth and early twentieth century cook books to name different sorts of cookies. And in 1910 when the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture examined 336 candy samples for purity and accurate labeling, 13 of those candies were described as “chocolate kisses,” a generic category. Only one of those candies was a “chocolate bud.”

It wasn’t until after the end of WWI that the term “kiss” seemed to be increasingly associated with the chocolate drop. The November 1919 issue of Confectioners Journal included an ad from the Racine Confectioners Manufacturing Company for the “Racine Chocolate Depositor,” a machine that was for making ” Chocolate Kisses and Stars… cast on metal covered plaques without the use of molds of any kind….plain tubes for kisses, or with tubes for 5-6-8-10-12 point stars. Then in late 1921, L. Weiscopf of New York advertised a “Chocolate ‘Kiss’ foil Wrapping Machine” and boasted that it was “in constant operation in several of the largest chocolate manufacturing plants in the United States.” This is most likely they machine Hershey’s used, a machine that also allowed them to include the distinctive paper plume peeking out of the foil wrapper.

The marketing of these specialized machines suggests that, after WWI, Hershey’s chocolate kiss had become so familiar that when candy people wanted a general term for a conical drop of chocolate, they called it a “kiss.” But the fact that these machines were sold widely also tells us that others besides Hershey’s were making and selling chocolate kisses.

“Kiss” was, for most of the twentieth century, just a generic term for a bite sized candy. This is why for 90 years Hershey’s was unable to trademark the term “Kiss” as a name they could use exclusively for their chocolate kisses. Until a the late 1990s, every trademark application for logos or wrapper images for “Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses” included a limitation: the term “kiss” was always excluded. The trademark examiners insisted that “kiss” was a general term for a sort of candy, and according to U.S. Trademark law, you can’t claim a trademark for a general term like “milk” or “tissue.”

Finally, in 2001, Hershey’s won the trademark after a prolonged legal battle (U.S. Registration 2,416,701). Henceforth, only one candy could call itself a “Kiss.” Hershey’s lawyers argued that, despite a long history of general usage, by the 1990s America was persuaded that a candy called “kiss” always meant Hershey’s Kiss, and they commissioned a huge survey to prove it. The judge sided with Hershey’s, and a kiss became a Kiss ™.

Which was first: the Hershey’s Kiss or the Wilbur Bud? Read about the candy copy cats in my previous post, Kissing Cousins.”

Just for Fun: You can read the legal briefs filed for and against “Kiss” on the U.S. Patents and Trademarks website. From “Trademark Document Retrieval,” enter the registration number 2416701. Choose the document dated 24-Feb-2009 called  “Unclassified.”

Entry filed under: 1890 to WW I, Chocolate, Marketing, Myth Busting. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Kissing Cousins: the Hershey’s Kiss and the Wilbur Bud Hershey’s Kisses: Got Lawyer?

17 Comments Add your own

  • […] So why are Hershey’s Kisses called Kisses, anyway? Read more in my next post, “Why a Kiss is Just a Kiss.” […]

  • 2. cybele  |  March 3, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I had no idea that the trademark was so recent for Kisses. I know Hershey’s has been pretty aggressively sending out C&D to small chocolatiers that call their items things like champagne kisses (Jacques Torres). But I suppose after 100 years they do kind of own the word.

    • 3. CandyProfessor  |  March 3, 2010 at 11:25 am

      I guess the question is, if they “own” the word, how far out does it go? Any chocolate bite? any candy? any edible thing? I notice Promotion in Motion is planning to market a chocolate confection called “Swiss Kiss.” It will be interesting to see what sorts of legal paper-wars ensue.

      • 4. cybele  |  March 3, 2010 at 12:11 pm

        Oh yeah, Promotion in Motion & Hershey’s are already going at it. I know there was another California confectioner that was served with a C&D over something that was very un-kiss-like. They complied. Jacque Torres was trying to fight it, but the fact that Hershey’s actually has a seasonal product called Champagne Kisses is not a good sign.

      • 5. CandyProfessor  |  March 3, 2010 at 12:19 pm

        I’m not sure what PIM was thinking, that one seems pretty clear. But C&D’s are big, cheap sticks that don’t always have merit, but when it’s a huge multi-billion dollar company that shakes that stick at a little shoe-string business, the stick usually wins. Just paying a lawyer to write a letter to respond to a C&D could break the bank of lots of folks.

  • 6. Richard @ The Bewildered Brit  |  March 3, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Excellent stuff! I’d long thought that Hershey’s story was phony, so it’s delightful to find out what was actually going on!

    Do we know if Hershey’s “it’s the sound the machines makes” story was simply an innocent late invention or whether it was an attempt by Hershey to claim the term “kiss” (you know “it’s the sound the specific machine we developed makes, i.e. it’s a term that we therefore own”)?

    I wonder how the term “kiss” became associated with bite–sized candy. There is a tradition in continental Europe of bite-sized candies being called “kisses”, although that specifically refers to the “Schaumkuess” (Foam Kiss) type of candy (similar to Mallomars).

    I’m not entirely sure how long the word “kiss” has been attached to this candy, though. Some form of meringue covered with chocolate has been around for a good couple of hundred years. The earliest name I can find for it is the horrifically racist “tête de nègre” from France.

    I’d guess that “kiss” became attached to it once the candy made its way to Germany: meringue in Germany is called “Baiser”, the French word for “kiss” (though it’s become more risque in meaning over the years). For decades they were known throughout Europe as Negerkuesse (or local translations! I’m leaving it in German cos it’s so offensive!). By the 1980s they were marketed under less offensive names such as Foam- or Choco-Kisses (in Germany) or just “Kisses” (in the Netherlands).

    Now, all this might have no bearing whatsoever on how certain bite-sized candy in the USA became known as “kisses”. A lot would depends on when the term “Negerkuesse” was first used in Germany: if it was before the mid-19th century, then it could easily have come to the States with the waves of German immigration. Over the years it could then have become translated and corrupted into something more general.

    Interestingly, Philadelphia was something of a centre of German immigration, and it’s just down the road from Hershey PA.

    Of course, I have no evidence for any of this, but it’s an interesting theory which probably merits more research!

    • 7. CandyProfessor  |  March 3, 2010 at 11:54 am

      Interesting connection with European candies, thanks for that info. The term “kiss” when used in association with candy in the U.S. did not appear to have any chocolate connotations; candy kisses prior to Hershey’s seem to have been all flavors but chocolate. The recipes for “chocolate kisses” that I found on quick Google were for things that might be similar to what you describe, but I’m not sure where the leap happens.

      As for Hershey’s “the sound of the machine”: they don’t use this as an argument in their legal briefs, and I don’t know when that claim was first made. I think it is a case of strategic corporate forgetting: even though they know that kiss is a generic candy term, they invent an original story for marketing purposes to make it seem unique to their candy. The Tootsie Roll story about Leo Hirschfeld in his little Brooklyn candy shop in 1896 is similar; Tootsie Roll knows the “official” history is a fiction, but chooses to continue to popularize it because its a much more compelling story than the truth.

  • 8. Patti  |  March 3, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Great read! Thanks!

  • 9. Hershey’s Kisses: Got Lawyer? « CandyProfessor  |  March 5, 2010 at 8:39 am

    […] Hershey’s: Why a Kiss is Just a Kiss […]

  • […] For more on Wilbur and the Wilbur Buds, see my posts: Kissing Cousins: the Hershey’s Kiss and the Wilbur Bud and Hershey’s: Why a Kiss is Just a Kiss […]

  • 11. Black Crows and Roses « Candy Professor  |  April 28, 2010 at 8:33 am

    […] 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 […]

  • […] Hershey’s: Why a Kiss is Just a Kiss […]

  • 13. Richard  |  September 19, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    The historical origin of candy kisses comes from the tradition started by a French Canadian nun Marguerite Bourgeois. She encouraged single girls to make candy for the feast of Ste Catherine, a woman who was executed around 307 for refusing to marry a roman emperor. Catherine was made the patron saint of spinsters in the 12th century and was revered on her birthday across Europe each November 25th in medieval towns by having the eldest spinster coiffe her statue on that day.
    Marguerite Bourgeois, encouraged the girls to make candy. The tradition is that the men opening their heart to them would accept them with a kiss. Hence these became quickly called term candy kisses in Canada and the Northeast US, where many French Canadians lived.
    Check out http://www.saveursdumonde.net/recettes/tire-ste-catherine-recette-et-tradition/. (french)
    It would be nice that the origin of this tradition were better known.

    • 14. Candy Professor  |  September 20, 2010 at 8:22 am

      Origins, always very tricky. A lovely story, and a lovely tradition. But I will suspend my judgement regarding the “true origin” of the term “kiss” as applied to candy. Since little sweets were indeed called kisses in those days, and this tradition involved the distribution of little sweets, there is no reason not to connect one with the other. But as for “the very first,” the legends of olden days are not usually the best documentation. I’m not sure it matters, though, whether such things as candy kisses had one or many historical origins. More interesting is this story of candy traditions, of which I am most happy to learn.

  • 15. Chocolate Sunday on um… Tuesday? | Patty Blount, Author  |  October 9, 2012 at 10:32 am

    […] And the bonus question: No one’s really sure how Hershey’s Kisses got their name, though Nancy’s theory is generally believed: https://candyprofessor.com/2010/03/03/hersheys-why-a-kiss-is-just-a-kiss/ […]

  • 16. vicky  |  October 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    the bibliography (MLA) for this website


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