Posts filed under ‘Heroes and Personalities’

Tough Tootsie, and How It Got To Be That Way

Durable. Rugged. Stands the test of time. That’s what you expect from radial tires. Not so much from candy.

But that’s the Tootsie Roll. Built to last. Tootsie Roll Industries describes the candy’s peculiar durability as “its non-perishable quality and resistance to extreme weather conditions.” I’ll say. It’s pretty amazing that a candy renowned for surviving under war conditions should end up near the top of America’s favorite treats.

How, you might wonder, did the Tootsie Roll get to be that way? Because if it weren’t for that non-perishable resistance, Tootsie Roll would have been just like any other chewy American candy of the early 1900s.

The secret is in the patent. U.S. Patent number 903,088, awarded to Leo Hirschfeld on November 3, 1908 with the unassuming name “A process for making candy.”

Normally a candy like taffy would be made by boiling the sugar mixture to a certain temperature, then pulling it on forks as it cooled, which would incorporate tiny air bubbles,  making it lighter in color and creating that chewy texture. Once it had cooled, you could cut it into pieces and wrap it.

What Leo figured out was that if you baked the candy at a low heat for a couple of hours after you pulled it but before you shaped it, the texture would be transformed from regular sticky taffy to the particular and peculiar texture of Tootsie Roll. The second cooking would cause the candy to rise like a cake, and become more light and porous. And it would make the candy a little tough, Leo admitted: “while tough in a measure it is not unpleasantly so, and will after a reasonable length of time thoroughly dissolve in the mouth.” That sounds about right.

Beecause Hirschfeld patented this process, no one else could do it. The patent was a very big deal in 1909. Tootsie manufacturer Stern & Saalberg Co. made sure everybody knew they had sole legal right to the Tootsie Roll process, and that they would prosecute anyone who tried to steal it. If you didn’t know, you could read it plainly at the bottom of their first known ad (shown here), which appeared in Confectioners Journal in May 1909:

The process for making Chocolate Tootsie Rolls is Patented. We have $50,000 laid aside to protect our rights.

The name “Tootsie” was also a registered trade-mark, protected by U.S. Patent and Trademark law. And in case you forgot, the patent was right there on the label of every single Tootsie Roll. The print is a little fuzzy, but it says “Tootsie Reg. U.S. Pat. Office” all over the label.

Detail of wrapper from early Tootsie Roll ads (1909-1912)

There is no candy like a Tootsie Roll, then or now. Pretty smart, that Leo Hirschfeld.

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  • Tootsie Roll Tragedy: The Real Leo Hirschfeld Story
  • Chocolate? Tootsie Rolls
  • February 5, 2010 at 8:32 am 9 comments

    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.

    Click here for the rest of the story!

    February 3, 2010 at 8:29 am 26 comments

    Langston Hughes Sings the Blues for Penny Candy

    Young boy (6-8) holding a bag of candy

    If you were a kid in the 1930s, you knew a lot about penny candy. It was what kids could afford, their biggest indulgence, their own consumer paradise. They were cheap, colorful, varied, and sold directly to children at the little candy stores. Familiar candies like marshmallows, licorice, hard candies, suckers, caramels and the like were sold at so many per penny. Like most candy before the rise of the “self-service” supermarket in the late 1940s, penny candies were dispensed from bins or boxes by the clerk, and they were usually not wrapped or branded. The rise of wrapping technologies and materials, especially after the first world war, as well as the new importance of advertising in the 1920s, began to shift some of the children’s market to wrapped goods and bars costing 5 or 10 cents. But penny candies continued to be the major kiddie attraction. Penny candies were a big part of childhood in those days:

    They would keep a child wondering and looking for a long time before spending his small change. There used to be bright red cinnamon drops at a cent a tiny cup. And big yellow or green gum drops at two for a penny. And coconut strips the colors of the flag in waxed paper.

    Langston Hughes

    That’s Langston Hughes, believe it or not. He is best known as one of America’s most beloved poets and a major figure in African American literature. He also was an unrepentant candy lover. And a sad candy lover: by 1948, when he wrote the essay I’m quoting, penny candy had all but disappeared.

    In the 1940s the children’s candy market began to experience dramatic changes. By 1946, the portion of the total candy output that was produced for the penny market had fallen to less than 4 percent. Both long term and short term forces conspired to make penny candy a nostalgic memory by mid-century. Penny candy had always represented the bottom end of the candy trade. “Better” candy stores avoided penny candy sales, viewing the children’s trade as an inconvenience and a distraction. Profit margins on penny goods were razor thin, and the penny candy merchant had to spend more on labor to serve the demanding but small-spending customers making numerous small purchases. The U.S. entry into World War II in 1942 brought the rationing of sugar and other candy ingredients. The candy industry succeeded in having candy designated an “essential food,” thereby assuring their continued access to sugar and other necessary commodities, but prices rose significantly. During the years of the war, about half the nation’s candy production went to provisioning the military, thereby creating reducing the amount of candy that could be sold domestically. The result of these forces was to drive out the penny candy trade. Bulk and box candies were far more profitable, and manufacturers, even those with nostalgic ties to the candy past, could no longer make economic sense of the penny lines.

    No one was more eloquent in mourning than Hughes, who described the parched candy landscape that had replaced the jeweled palaces of his childhood:

    Nowadays, most of the candies displayed in grocery shops (at least in the big towns) seem to be the standard brands of Hershey’s and O. Henry’s the same from coast to coast–monotonously unvarying–and costing a nickel or more. Not even a child can shop for a penny in this day and age. And they don’t have the fun of peeping and peering and puzzling and selecting such as one had when faced with a wonderful array of unwrapped penny candies in the old days.

    Source: Langston Hughes, “Childhood Memories Of Good Old Home,” The Chicago Defender 18 December 1948.

    January 20, 2010 at 7:33 am 3 comments

    Pez and the 1950s Children’s Candy Market

    Candy Land observed a moment of silence on December 15, 2009, to mark the passing of Curtis Allina, presumed inventor of the Pez character dispenser. The first Pez marketed for children were full-bodied likenesses of Santa and a robot, in 1955. Pez dispensers were not the first or the only candy toy novelty. But no other candy toy has approached the brilliance of the Pez Head, in its simple appeal and infinite variety.

    When Pez came to the U.S. from Austria in the early 1950s, it was as an adult peppermint sold in a suave dispenser that resembled James Bond’s gold cigarette lighter, and shared its sleek cosmopolitan gleam. Such trifles were more successful in Vienna than in Vermont, though, and Pez stumbled in the U.S. market. Then Allina, or someone working for him, had the idea to re-package the mints as fruit-flavored children’s candies. But why did they imagine that marketing candy to children might be a winning bet?

    The fact was, no one much noticed those little candy munching kiddies before the 1950s.

    Oh, the kids bought candy, to be sure. One or two pennies at a time, hoarded and carefully extracted from a sticky pocket after spending an hour loitering in front of the candy displays. Hardly the most promising customer base. The penny candy trade was always at the edges of the candy business. No respectable adult with more than five or ten cents to rub together would bother with the little shops where kids hung out and clerks spent the day swatting away grubby hands and dripping noses. In articles on cost accounting and business-building published in the candy journals, bean-counters encouraged candy makers and candy sellers to give up the penny trade: it just didn’t pay.

    World War II pretty much killed off penny candy. There was sugar rationing, and much candy production was diverted to supply the troops with their requisite sweets. Candy ads from the period encourage Americans to be patient if they can’t find their favorite candies in stock, shorages were just a part of the war effort. Whatever by way of sugar, chocolate and the like that was left for the domestic market went to the manufacture of higher priced, more profitable goods. But of course, there were still children, and they still were going to be eating candy.

    Around 1947, as the war wound down and things started getting back to normal, candy makers began looking around and noticing all those candy-hungry kids. Things were different, now, to be sure. Kids weren’t getting pennies the way they used to. The unwrapped penny goods were, in any case, gone. And mothers were more concerned both with regulating the money their kids had to spend, and with exercising more control over their children’s candy habits. At the same time, modern ideas about advertising, marketing, and packaging encouraged candy makers and sellers to start thinking more creatively about their customers and how to build their business.

    At first, the idea was just to draw the attention of children: what price? what sort of wrapper? what sort of display? And to soothe the mothers: this candy is wholesome! this candy is clean!

    But by 1952, the idea of a distinct children’s market had begun to inspire amazing innovations in promotion and sales which far surpassed tentative explorations of the late 1940s. A trade article on “Candy Packaging for the Small Fry” suggests the imaginative range of possibilities for packaging: There were “Play Money Pops” with cardboard coins; “Wild West Pops” with small Western toys; “Tasty Pops” which promised an educational candy experience with their new “Wheel-a-Word combination spelling game and bank that teaches children how to spell, and can be used for hoarding pennies as well.” And then there were the packages themselves: fancy boxes that would serve for jewelry or a picture frame when the candy was done; musical drums for pounding or, for the young ladies, drum-shaped pocketbooks filled with candy; and decorated glass tumblers featuring bunnies and sports themes. A precursor to Pez might be the “Clicker Bird”: a metal bird with a long neck and moveable head filled with candy. An extra notable feature was the built-in clicker: “Children love them, and the clickers are guaranteed to drive mothers to distraction.”

    Candy filled toys were common and popular in the mid 1950s; if you wanted to sell in the children’s market, you needed a novelty, an extra, something to stand out and add to the candy itself. The Pez dispensers were part of a wave of innovation in children’s candy packaging. You’ll still find many novelty toy packages in the children’s candy rack at the drug store today. But Pez does stand out, as an idea that allowed for infinite variation in the same familiar package, appealing to new generations of children while gripping the adult imagination as well.

    Sources: Margalit Fox, “Curtis Allina Dies at 87; He Put the Heads on Pez”, New York Times 5 January 2010; B.G. Collins, “Let’s Sell Candy to the Children,” Confectioners Journal June 1947, p. 35-36; Ann Marie Lawler, “Candy Packaging for the Small Fry,” Confectioners Journal May 1952, p. 25-26.

    Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ionan/ / CC BY-NC 2.0

    January 8, 2010 at 7:21 am Leave a comment

    Luden’s Penny Candy Part II

    In the previous post, we heard about William Luden’s problem: how could he distinguish his penny candy from the rest of the competition?

    Luden hired a team of investigators to quietly sound the market for him. They fanned out over the streets of Philadelphia, visiting all the places penny candies might be bought or eaten. Who was the penny candy customer? How best to reach that customer, and bring those pennies to Luden? Luden’s team visited the candy counters in the department stores, the retail confectioners, the small candy shops. They canvassed school-yards for a direct impression of children’s views.

    Luden’s investigators verified that children were the ones buying the penny candies, and they were buying them in the little candy shops. Grown-ups cared about quality, and when they bought candy in the better stores quality might be a deciding factor. But children buying candy for themselves in the little shops didn’t care about quality. They were looking for the biggest, the most, the brightest, the shiniest. If Luden was going to make any inroads on the basis of quality, he was going to have to persuade the parents.

    A new advertising campaign was launched with the explicit aim of appealing to parents’ concerns and their influence. The theme of the campaign juxtaposed the parents’ dollar purchases of grown-up candy with the child’s penny choices: “Your child’s penny is as important to us as your dollar.” Luden suggested that the quality to be had at the higher price could also be had in cheaper goods, if they chose the Luden brand. The new slogan: “Penny Candy made with Dollar Care.”

    So kids and parents then weren’t so different from kids and parents today. Parents worry about quality, safety, and health effects. Kids look for “extreme” flavors and colors and shapes. But kids today are less free to go where they want, or to buy what they want. On the other hand, marketing today speaks directly to kids, through TV channels promoting “kid power,” and Web sites, and kids “social networks.” Where candy is concerned, it seems there is likely to be conflict between what parents want for their kids, and what kids want. Do today’s lifestyles and technologies make for more conflict, or less?

    Source: “Little Stories of Success: William H. Luden: Standardizing Penny Candy for Children—How the Market Was Won by Addressing Parents.” Candy and Ice Cream Aug. 1915: 10.

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  • Luden’s Penny Candy, 1914 Part I
  • November 20, 2009 at 7:09 am 2 comments

    Luden’s Penny Candy, 1914 Part I

    Mr. William Luden may not be remembered in many high school history books, but you know him just the same. His name has been associated with cough drops since Mr. Luden first started making them in 1878.

    By 1914, Luden was a major candy manufacturer, and although his Reading, Pennsylvania factory made all sorts of candy, the main product was menthol cough drops. Lots of them. Six tons a day. Part of the reason he was so successful with the cough drops was that the Luden’s name was known, and customers could be relied on to demand and expect the Luden’s quality in their cough drops. The cough drops were packaged in a pouch bearing the Luden’s name, and Luden advertised heavily, both to retailers and “jobbers” (independent distributors), and also directly to customers.

    Luden also made and sold “penny candy,” candy that was unmarked and unadvertised. The retailers and the jobbers would take his penny candy because they knew it was good, and because they had good experience with Luden’s cough drops. But the customers didn’t know Luden’s penny candy from any other, and therein lay the problem. How could Luden make his penny candy stand out for the customer?

    No one had ever tried to “brand” penny candy or to advertise it directly to consumers. And initially, Mr. Luden wasn’t sure it could be done. He thought about it on and off for several years, as he watched the way the reputation of his cough drops helped build his business and protected him from the fiercest competition around price fluctuations. In the penny candy business, the profit margins were so slim that the smallest price difference could swing a retail order one way or the other. The only solution Mr. Luden could see would be to establish a standard on the basis of quality, so that slight variations of price would not have such an impact. And the only way to establish quality was to put his name on his penny candies as well.

    Could it work?

    Related Posts:

  • Luden’s Penny Candy Part II
  • November 18, 2009 at 6:08 pm 3 comments

    Laxatives and the end of Trick or Treating

    Halloween is here, and once again we mourn the death of Trick or Treating. It happened exactly fifty years ago, today.

    Thinkstock Single Image Set

    Halloween 1959. Dr. William V. Shyne, a dentist in Fremont, California, was having an off day. Maybe his wife just left him, maybe his pants were too tight, maybe he just didn’t like people. Or rather, maybe he just didn’t like kids.

    Kids came around to his house that night, ringing the bell and calling Trick or Treat! Lots, maybe a couple hundred. In 1959, every kid in America under the age of 10 or so was out on Halloween night, making the rounds. They would go in gangs and groups, the older ones on their own, the littlest ones with older kids or their parents, ringing bells and gathering candy loot and howling and hooting.

    Dr. Shyne answered the door. And he gave out treats, all right. But his treats turned out to be a mean and nasty trick. Police investigators discovered he had “dispensed” 450 candy-coated laxative pills into kids’ outstretched bags. Thirty of those kids became very, very sick.

    Dr. Shyne was charged with “outrage of public decency” and “unlawful dispensing of drugs.” They should have charged him with murder. Because after that, Halloween was never the same.

    Halloween 1960 began the era of “Halloween sadism.” Was it safe to Trick or Treat? What maniac might put a LSD tab, or a poisoned Tootsie Roll, or a razor-spiked apple, in little Suzy’s bag? Stories surfaced of pins, needles, razor blades, but they would fade away under closer examination. Nevertheless, Americans came to believe that kids weren’t safe at Halloween. Parents scrutinized their kiddies’ loot and confiscated anything “wierd.” No cookies, no apples, no unwrapped candies, that was obvious. Some towns set up X-ray stations at hospitals to “check the candy.” The festive and free romping of the streets for Trick or Treat faded into a circuit at the mall, a party at church, a supervised promenade to select neighbors homes.

    But through all of that, even up to today, there has never been a single substantiated instance of an anonymous sadist causing death or life-threatening injury. Not one.

    Dr. Shyne was the first, and only, of his kind.

    RIP.

    PS. I hear, contrary to the boo-hoo-ers, that in fact in many neighborhoods trick or treat is alive and well, with the proper supervision and safeguards. Like the vampires and zombies of Halloween, Trick or Treat rises from the grave!

    October 30, 2009 at 7:09 am 13 comments

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    Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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