Posts filed under ‘Medicine’

The Inventor of Candy Medicine

Today we honor an unhailed hero of candydom: Dr. Bernard Fantus (1874-1940). He seems an unlikely candidate for the Candy Hall of Fame. He is remembered as the “father of the American Blood Bank,” the first to conceive of collecting and storing a wide variety of blood for surgical and emergency use. But Fantus was a man of many talents and passions, as we shall see.

In the early 1900s, Dr. Fantus was a Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Illinois, and also a practicing physician at Cook County Hospital. He was bothered by the difficulties that children had with taking their nasty tasting medicines. Why, Dr. Fantus wondered, should medicine taste like medicine? Let’s make it taste like candy. Good candy. So he set himself to the task.

Of course, being a medical man, he knew a lot about drugs, but not much about how to make candy. So he signed up for courses with a local candy maker and learned some candy tricks. Then back to his own laboratory, where he experimented with different drugs and formulations. Sulphur taffy was not a success. His next idea was soft, chocolate covered candies with fondant centers to incorporate the medicine. Alas, his cod-liver oil chocolate creams left a little to be desired. There were other problems with fondant based medicines: fondant was tricky to work with, and dried out if stored too long, making it impractical for druggists to keep on hand.

Finally he hit on the idea of pressed sugar tablets, something akin to today’s American “Smarties.” These were easy to fabricate with a simple hand press and created a base for incorporating some 50 different active drugs. Whether you were bothered by syphilis or malaria, cough or diarrhea, Fantus had a candy tablet to suit. Fantus claimed that his formulations would result in candy tablets that tasted so good that the only problem would be to keep children from overdosing by eating too much at once.

In the early 1900s, most all prescription drugs were compounded locally by the pharmacist himself. So Fantus didn’t think of actually making any of these candy medications to sell. Instead, Fantus published a booklet titled Candy Medication in 1915 in the hopes that his idea would be taken up by doctors and pharmacists elsewhere. In his preface, he explained the benefits that would come from taking up candy in medical practice:

It is the author’s hope that this booklet may be instrumental in robbing childhood of one of its terrors, namely, nasty medicine; that it may lessen the difficulties experienced by nurse and mother in giving medicament to the sick child; and help to make the doctor more popular with the little ones.

Whether other children beyond Fantus’s own practice benefited from his idea is hard to say. But it would be quite some time before a commercial version of “candy medication” became available: children’s chewable aspirin was introduced in 1952.

References: Bernard Fantus, M.D., Candy Medication (1915); Biography of Dr. Bernard Fantus at My Hero Project

February 24, 2010 at 8:11 am 2 comments

Eat More Candy! or not?

Extreme close-up of mid adult woman eating a chocolate candy bar

Happy New Year! If your New Year’s Resolutions include a more nutritious diet, you are probably planning to cut down on candy.

Of course, in different times there have been different ideas about nutrition. Early food science in the late nineteenth century introduced the idea of the “calorie” as a measure of the energy content of food, and recognized three major components of the diet: protein, fat, and carbohydrate.Back in the early 1900s, this food science provided an outstanding rationale for eating more candy.

For example, one food expert wrote:

It will be seen that candy has a high energy value–higher than meat, fish and vegetables. From a laboratory point of view, half a pound of chocolate creams, supplemented by a small bag of peanuts, contain all the dietetic elements that are essential for a wholesome and nourishing day’s diet. Three meals can be obtained from the chocolates and peanuts, and the body’s needs be met and the appetite satisfied.

The craving for sweets also could be framed in scientific terms suggested by ideas of “instinct” and evolutionary utility. A physician offered this explanation:

Sweets are the necessities of childhood and youth, hence Providence has wisely implanted in the young an insatiable desire for sugar. Without this element largely mingled with its food the healthiest born infant would die in a month. In vain would it nestle on its mother’s bosom, in vain its exposure to the warm sunshine, and in vain the softest blankets and warmest furs to encase its body. For the warmth which sustains human life comes from within, and must be generated by the internal combustion of carbonaceous food as found in all sweets and fats. It is the most inveterate of all prejudices in civilized life that sweets hurt children. On the contarary, they are a prime necessity, and to deprive them of those, if made pure, is downright barbarism.

Where science led, advertising followed. One candy shop asked:

Are you eating Candy Enough? The hunger for sweets is natural. The normal man or woman who is not eating a reasonable amount of candy daily is not being properly fed. Recognizing the wholesomeness of the candy DEMAND, we have equipped our store to meet it with a wholesome SUPPLY.

For us in the twenty-first century, candy is clearly an indulgence, a treat, a little something extra. But the story of candy in the twentieth century was often dominated by a struggle to persuade or prove otherwise, that candy was wholesome and nutritious food. Is it?

Sources: “Pure Candy is Healthful–Sound the Slogan,” Confectioners Journal Oct 1916, p. 86; “Infancy Dependent Upon Sweets,” Confectioners Journal May 1915, p. 68; Viedts advertisement, Confectioners Journal October 1916, p. 83.
Related Posts:

  • The Chocolate Cure
  • Creed for Candy
  • Candy Lunch Bars
  • January 4, 2010 at 8:17 am 2 comments

    Igniting Cough Drops

    Violent candies: It’s not about the taste, but about the action. Pop Rocks explode in your mouth. Extreme Sours of all sorts burn the skin off your cheeks. Wintergreen Lifesavers emit sparks when chomped in the dark. Dear candy, don’t just sit there; DO SOMETHING!

    How delightful it must have been for whoever discovered the igniting cough drop, back in 1913. One typically seeks such medicated confection for its soothing, cooling properties. One does not expect pyrotechnics.

    Woman Taking Throat Lozenge

    A popular cough lozenge ingredient in the day was chlorate of potash; mixed up with a little sugar, it promised a tasty and effective treatment for respiratory discomfort. But when you rubbed the lozenge on the igniting strip of a safety-match box, watch out! The lozenge would light up like a match and burn.

    It’s a cough drop. No, it’s a match. No, it’s a cough drop AND a match!

    Confectioners Journal called it “killing two birds with one stone.” One wonders how it could have been as tasty as claimed. Of course, in 1913 those chalky Necco-style wafers were popular, too.

    Source: “Killing Two Birds With One Stone” Confectioners Journal, Jan. 1914 p. 93

    More: Chemistry expert Anne Marie Helmenstine explains Candy Triboluminescence (those sparks from Wintergreen Lifesavers).

    November 13, 2009 at 6:53 am 2 comments

    Candy Band Aids

    Sugar is a somewhat magical substance. In all its many crystalline and syrupy moods it gives us jellies, and taffies, and candy canes, and fudge. These days, we don’t often worry about spoilage, so its easy to forget that sugar is also an excellent preservative. Fruit preserves and candied fruits last a long time; the sugar draws moisture out of the microbes that would make the food spoil.

    Doctor Bandaging a Knee

    None of these uses would suggest that we could use sugar in the arsenal against injury and bloodshed. Yet just such a use was discovered among German surgeons during the early days of the first World War:

    …it is said that many of the wounded have been cured by dressings of ordinary granulated sugar, the compresses being changed every second or third day.

    Actually, it kind of makes sense. Sugar would impede the growth of infectious bacteria, just as it discourages the growth of spoiling bacteria in food. But Confectioners Journal offered a more metaphysical explanation:

    Sugar is always vitalizing and it seems logical that it should purify and heal when thus applied externally.

    And there was a suggestion for a new candy product:

    One of these days our confectioners may be found turning out sugar plasters.

    Candy band aids sounds like a great idea. Imagine how much easier it would be to sooth little Suzy’s scratched knee if you could offer one bandage for the knee, and another to suck on!

    One final thought: Of course, salt would have the same effect. But in addition to the general non-yummyness of salt band aids, it should be pointed out that packing wounds with salt sounds like it would really hurt!

    Source: “Sugar as a Life Saver,” Confectioners Journal April 1917 p 65

    November 6, 2009 at 7:38 am 2 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.


    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

    Candy and the Polio Vaccine

    Vaccine on a sugar cube

    Unless you’re over 50, you probably don’t have much experience with polio. It’s a nasty viral infection, which can in bad cases cause paralysis of legs, arms, and in the worst cases, your whole body. Polio gave us the Iron Lung (for paralyzed victims who otherwise would die of asphyxiation) and the March of Dimes, which started out raising money for polio research.

    A vaccine pretty much eliminated polio from the U.S. and most of the developed world in the 1950s. And candy is part of the story.

    In the late 1950s, polio researcher Albert Sabin developed a live virus vaccine to protect against polio. The vaccine had to be taken by mouth. The problem was that it was bitter tasting. Adults might swallow it anyway, but the primary intended beneficiaries of the vaccination programs were children. The obvious solution: put it in candy.

    As early as 1959, scientists and confectioners in the U.S.S.R. had collaborated to produce a candy that could deliver the live virus. We don’t know what the confection tasted like, but it must have tasted pretty good. Over 1.5 million Russian children were successfully immunized by eating the vaccine candy.

    Here in the U.S., Sabin’s live oral vaccine was approved for general use in 1961. Unfortunately, the Russian candy never made it across the ocean; instead, through the 1960s, the oral vaccine was administered to millions of adults and children as a sugar cube. The vaccine was effective; poliomyelitis is virtually unknown in the U.S. today.

    A 1968 article in the New York Times makes the polio vaccine program sound like a party. “Children Frolic and get ‘Candy’ Polio Vaccine” describes a festive event organized by the NYC Health Department at the George Washington Houses in upper Manhattan. With music, toys, balloons and free orange juice, public health officials hoped to draw in pre-schoolers who had not yet been vaccinated against polio. At the event, each child received sugar cube tinted lilac with two drops of the Sabin live oral polio vaccine. Some kids, loving candy, came back for a second piece.

    Too bad every vaccine can’t be candy!

    More: See my research on the role of candy in the 1916 polio epidemic in Articles: The Candy Prophylactic: Danger, Disease, and Children’s Candy around 1916

    Sources: “Children Frolic and get ‘Candy’ Polio Vaccine” New York Times May 22, 1968; “Polio virus Put in Candy” Science News Letter June 27, 1959: 405; “Polio Vaccine Given in Candy, Soviet Says,” New York Times Nov. 26, 1959.

    October 12, 2009 at 6:20 pm 3 comments

    The Chocolate Cure

    Bars of chocolate

    One hundred years ago, Americans had very different ideas about body image and health. Nutritional experts were worried that people were underfed and undernourished.

    It was an easier time for candy lovers. Consider this account of the German “Chocolate Cure,” which ran in a 1914 journal:

    In an obscure but picturesque little village of Germany there is a place called “The Chocolate Cure,” where thin people go to become stout; the patients eat and drink cocoa and chocolate all the time, while they rest, admire the scenery, gossip and grow fatter every day. The true secret of the great success of this treatment is the happy way chocolate has of fattening just the right places, settling in the hands, the neck and shoulders, making the fair patient prettier and plumper all the time. The really effective part of the cure may be tried at home by persevering women, and the medicine is so palatable and the methods so simple that there is actually, it seems, no reason why all should not be at least the desired weight.

    That sound SO much more pleasurable than today’s version of the chocolate cure, which promises all the benefits of the phytochemicals and antioxidants found in abundance in chocolate, but only if you eat super-bitter 80% cacao in very small quantities, and promise not to enjoy it.

    Source: “The Chocolate Cure,” Confectioners Journal Jan 1914, p. 97.

    September 25, 2009 at 7:23 am Leave a comment

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    Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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