Posts tagged ‘children’

Kids, Candy, and the Law

Penny candy has been on my mind lately. Penny candy is of course kid’s candy. I have a fantasy that back in the olden days, kids could just go buy whatever candy they wanted, whenever they wanted. Pennies aren’t so hard to come by, after all (look under the pillows of your couch).

But it turns out that not every one agreed that children should be free to spend their pennies as they chose. In 1909, a Brooklyn alderman came to the city council with a plan: to make it a crime to buy candy. That’s right: he wanted to make it illegal for any child under the age of 16 to purchase candy, unless they were with their parents or some responsible relative. And he meant business: the law would include fines from $10 to $50 (a week’s wages for many) and from 10 to sixty days imprisonment. Luckily for the kids of Brooklyn, the ordinance got shot down.

The full force of the law seems a pretty big stick to keep kids away from their candies.

And if some though it should be a crime for kids to buy candies for themselves, others were willing to go further. How about the citizen who wrote to the New York papers with this suggestion: make it illegal for any one over the age of 14 to offer or give candy to anyone under 14. The reason they gave? To cut down on kidnapping. Uh huh. Because the kidnappers are going to think twice if they realize that the candy lure they are using is against the law…

About those stick candies in the image: those are the original version of the kind of “old fashioned stick candies” you see today every once in a while.  They were about 2 1/2 inches long, wrapped in wax paper with a paper label that stated the flavor. They sold for a penny a piece at the shop; this ad is selling to the retalier, a box of 450 sticks at $2.25.  Some of the flavors in this box are pretty familiar: lemon, peppermint, spearmint. But there is also sassafrass, clove, and rose. Sassafrass is similar to root beer, and clove is a flavor you might find these days in spice drops or Necco wafers, but I don’t know any rose flavored candies!

Source: Confectioners Journal Feb 1909 p. 74: “A Weird Story from Brooklyn”; Confectioners Journal May 1914 p. 102 (no title).

January 25, 2010 at 8:03 am Leave a comment

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


    Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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    Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

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