Posts filed under ‘Myth Busting’

Black Crows or Black Rose?

Black Crows: do you know this candy? It’s a venerable gummy licorice drop, from the same people who bring you fruity Dots. But while Dots are in every movie concession and drug store bin that I come across, I never see the Crows. I suspect they are a little less popular. After all, it’s a licorice candy for starters, not America’s favorite flavor these days. And then there is the name. Crows? I mean, those are some big and spooky birds.

I’m not the only one who thinks the name is a little strange. The legend of Black Crows is that they weren’t supposed to be named “Crows” at all. The story (and you’ll find it at Wikipedia and every other “candy nostalgia” book and web site) is that when Brooklyn candy makers Mason, Au, and Magenheimer sent out to have the first labels printed up, somehow the printer got confused and instead of Black Rose, the labels came back with Black Crows. And Black Crows it has been ever since.

It seems an easy mistake: when you say it out loud, black rose does sound exactly like black crows. But Richard, over at The Bewildered Brit, pointed out that this story seemed a little unlikely. He thought it would have made more sense to call the candy “black roses,” but “black crowses” doesn’t make any sense.  I agreed with Richard that the whole thing seemed odd. So I started looking for early evidence of Black Crows to decide for my self if the story of Black Rose made any sense. Here’s what I found.

We do know for a fact that Mason, Au applied to trademark the name “Black Crows” in 1911 (the trademark was approved Dec. 12, 1912, U.S. Serial 71058363).

In the trademark application, the candy makers assert that the name “Black Crows” has been in continuous use in commerce since 1890. That means that in 1890, they were selling the candy as “Black Crows.” No sign of “Black Rose” here.

I found an advertisement for Black Crows published in January 1919:

What is interesting here is that Black Crows are sold in bulk. They are shipped to retailers in big five pound boxes, or in forty pound cases. There is a label on the box, as you can see. But when the candy is sold to the candy-eater at the candy shop, it is going to be scooped out of the box and put into a sack. Whether the label says “Black Crows” or “Black Rose” or “Black Nose” or “Black Panty Hose” hardly matters. If Mason, Au had wanted to call their candy sold in big bulk boxes “Black Rose” back in 1890, and they got the wrong labels, why would they toss the name they had chosen when the name on the label is so irrelevant to how the candy gets sold?

As the January ad announces, Mason, Au was working on a five cent package. It came out in July, 1919. Here’s the ad:

Notice the copy reads: “No Weighing, No Wrapping, Just Selling.” In the nineteen-teens, the idea of pre-packaged candy took off. When unwrapped candy is being scooped out of glass jars or big boxes, the buyer can’t really know what “brand” the candy might be (and this was something of an issue for many candy makers who were trying to capture some market share). Boxes like this Black Crows were revolutionizing the way candy was being sold and packaged, and making the brand and the packaging more and more important to the sale.

When the candy is displayed in these individual packages, it really does matter what name is on the candy box. The individual boxes will be displayed and customers will recognize the brand based on the packaging. If the printer had screwed up all the printing on individual retail packages like this, that would have been a big deal. But in 1890, no such packaging existed.

In sum: Black Crows was the name of the candy going all the way back to 1890. n 1890, there was no such thing as a candy wrapper. The way candy was packaged and sold meant that a “printers error” for a box label would have been easy to work around. Given the absence of any actual evidence that the candy was ever called Black Rose, we can only conclude that the story is a myth.

But as I’m discovering, the candy past is as much myth and legend as it is 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 mystery and romance of the candy past. Candy is a special product, one we associate with pleasure and fun, and it’s not surprising that we’d hope that the stories behind our candies would be more interesting than the stories behind socks or soap.

Unfortunately, most of the story of candy in America is just the story of business: a product, a market, a sale, companies growing and prospering, or losing their foothold and failing. Not much fodder for the cocktail party circuit, alas. Pity the poor kill-joy historian who just must get it right.

So why would we need the “Black Rose” story anyway? I think it has something to do with changing perceptions of candy and candy eaters. Today, the chewy licorice gum drop is sold alongside similar sugar candies like Mike and Ike, Dots, Skittles: sure, grownups may eat it, but it’s basically kids candy. But if you look at the older packaging above, you can see it’s quite atmospheric and spooky. A century ago, candy like Black Crows wasn’t associated with children or cartoons, it was a serious candy. So a spooky black crow wasn’t so odd. But today, that image doesn’t match the idea of kiddie candies. So we have the new Black Crows logo:  a jaunty, jokey cartoon crow. And we have the legend of “black rose,” that the crow wasn’t really a crow after all.

One last tidbit: Black Crows ad in the 1920s emphasize their quality: they are flavored with real anise seed and licorice, they do not harden or deteriorate, and they are pure and wholesome. But you might be surprised about the color:

They are colored with charcoal, which is beneficial to the stomach.

I’m pretty sure they took the charcoal out some time back. But that explains the nice black color!

Sources: Black Crows ads appeared in Confectioners Journal, Jan. and June 1919. Quote from Mason, Au & Magenheimer ad for Black Crows, Confectioners Journal September 1921 p. 74.

April 28, 2010 at 8:30 am 3 comments

Hershey’s: Why a Kiss is Just a Kiss

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.”

March 3, 2010 at 8:32 am 17 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

Ye Olde Poison Candy

Baby and open cupboard with toxic products

In the early years of the twentieth century, as today, children seemed vulnerable. They ate a lot of candy. Bad candy.  Penny candies in particular were blamed for endangering children’s health with “adulterants,” non-food ingrediants including such alarming substances as furniture glue, coal tar, and all sorts of chemicals, that were clearly not meant for human consumption.

It was obvious to every one in the 1900s that candy was dangerous. Or was it?

In New York City in 1899, three year old Robert Wilkerson and his five year old sister Lucy fell ill, supposedly as a result of eating poisoned candy. The boy died, but a doctor who examined Lucy “thought the symptoms were more like meningitis than poisoning.”

Two years later, the parents of two children who died blamed “candy, apples and sour milk.” The doctor had a different explaination:  “meningitis, resulting from ptomaine poisoning.”

In 1906, the Times reported the announcement of the examining coroner who concluded that the death of a ten year old girl, Christina Klewin, “of what was supposed to be candy poisoning, was a victim of spinal meningitis.”

And in 1914, after New York papers charged that seven year old Willie Oppenland had been killed by poison color adulterants in his candy, an autopsy revealed that he had in fact died of cerebro-spinal meningitis.

The candy industry would spend huge amounts of money trying to combat the notion that there was something unwholesome about candy itself. The National Confectioners Association (NCA), the main candy trade group, was organized in the late 1800s with the primary goal of refuting accusations of candy adulteration and encouraging better manufacturing practices to raise the standards of the trade. Each report of “candy poisoning” was met with aggressive investigation and in most cases, alternative explanations ranging from overeating to deliberate attempts at murder.

So far in my research, I have not encountered a single credible case of illness or death caused by shoddy or criminal candy manufacture. But that didn’t mean candy couldn’t be a killer. Here’s another version of the candy poisoning tale, this one from 1913:

Dying from hailstones he had eaten, thinking them candy, a five-year-old boy Luther Quinn, met with an unfortunate end at South Orange NJ recently. The boy went outdoors after a storm and gathered hailstones. They looked so much like candy that we was tempted to eat them. [He died two days later due to indigestion] caused by the sudden and violent chilling of the hailstones.

Related Posts:

  • Glue-cose
  • Laxatives and the end of Trick or Treating
  • Sources: “Two Children Poisoned,” New York Times 24 February 1899; “Another Kruger Child Dead,” New York Times 10 January 1901; “Meningitis, Not Candy Poisoning,”  New York Times 9 March 1906; “Poison Candy Charges Fail,” International Confectioner March 1914, p. 42; “Blame it on Candy,” Confectioners Journal May 1913, p. 71.

    January 11, 2010 at 7:13 am 1 comment

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