New England candy-making boomed since colonial times right through the mid 1900s. Here are 15 sweet morsels about the history of New England candy:
1. Here’s something to chew on. The first commercial chewing gum was made in 1848 on a Franklin stove in Bangor, Maine. State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum was the brainchild of John B. Curtis. His family cooked up the first batch at home from tree sap. Though he didn’t invent chewing gum, which has been around for centuries, he did commercialize it. Eventually he moved to a factory in Portland that employed 200 people and made 1800 boxes of chewing gum a day.
2. Dispense with the cigarettes. If you’ve ever tasted Pez candies, you might strongly suspect it wasn’t their flavor that made them so popular. And you’d be right. They were originally marketed to adults as alternatives to smoking, so the dispensers were made to resemble cigarette lighters. (They didn’t have heads until 1955.) Pez was first invented in Vienna in 1927. In 1973, Pez built a factory in Orange, Conn.
3. The cure for spring fever. If cabin fever has ever driven you outside in Vermont on one of those March days when the icicles are dripping and the sun is wilting the last of the winter snow, you have likely stumbled across a group of people who appear to be eating snow. They’re not crazy (at least not necessarily); they’re partaking of a seasonal delicacy: sugar on snow. It’s nothing more than freshly made, hot maple syrup drizzled on the last of the winter snow. It forms a sweet, stringy-then-chewy delicacy that is best eaten with a fork. Many also choose to accompany it with a doughnut, coffee and a sour dill pickle to mix the sweet and sour and savory flavors.
4. When candy was king. Boston could once claim to be the candy capital of America. In 1950, Boston and Cambridge, Mass., were home to 140 candy companies. Main Street in Cambridge, known as ‘Confectioner’s Row,’ was lined with candy makers: James O. Welch (Junior Mints), Fox-Cross (Charleston Chew), Jack Smiley (hard candies), Graylock Confection (Tweet) and Daggett (chocolates).
5. The unstoppable wafer. The oldest continually manufactured item in the U.S. is the NECCO Wafer, first sold in a wrapper very similar to today’s packaging. The company was founded in 1847 by Oliver B. Chase and his brother. Chase invented the first candy machine, a lozenge cutter. The wafers were originally called “Hub Wafers,” because they were made in Boston. The company merged in 1901, becoming the New England Confectionery Company. NECCO Wafers went to the Arctic and Antarctica. Explorer Donald MacMillan took them along in 1913 on his journey for nutrition and “as rewards to Eskimo children.” Adm. Richard Byrd took 2-1/2 tons of NECCO Wafers on his expedition to the South Pole in the 1930s. NECCO moved production to Cambridge in 1947 and then to Revere, Mass., in 2003.
6. Chocolate as medicine. Central Falls, R.I., was once known as ‘Chocolateville.’ William Wheat ran a chocolate mill on the Blackstone River there from 1782 until sometime after it was flooded in 1807. The mill sold chocolate to the villagers and to the military and mariners. At that time, hot chocolate was thought to have medicinal qualities to revive tired soldiers and sailors.
7. How did the Lolly Pop get its name? In New England, at least, it came from a racehorse. George Smith of New Haven made and sold Lolly Pops for years, but he struggled mightily to officially register ‘Lolly Pop’ at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He’d been making a hard candy on a stick since 1908. The patent office said the term ‘lollipop’ had been in use in England, but Smith said the name Lolly Pop was inspired by a racehorse he’d seen at a local fair. He finally got his trademark on Oct. 13, 1931, 23 years after he started making the candy.
8. Remember when your mother threw away your baseball cards? Well, here’s one more reason to still be mad. A mint condition Cy Young baseball card with an overprint of Cambridge candy maker George Close Co. sold at auction for $14,000. George Close made chocolates, suckers, butter balls and lemon drops from 1861 to the 1930s. Didn’t you used to have that card in your collection?
9. Ribbon candy takes a bow. Each autumn in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, long after the tourists have vacated, a tiny traffic jam develops on Route 3. It lasts for only a few days and then is gone. The source of the tie-up, the Kellerhaus candy and ice cream shop has posted the sign that it has ribbon candy. Not the sweetest or easiest to eat, the candy is still a favorite of customers who’ve been buying it for more than a century from the shop founded in 1906 by Otto Keller. Its appeal probably owes more to its beauty than its taste, and of course its ability to resurrect Christmas memories of old. But the weather conditions have to be just right to make it, so most years it’s in limited supply and it sells out very early in the holiday season.
10. An eyeful of candy. The longest candy counter in the world can be found at Chutters, a candy store at 41 Main St. in Littleton, N.H. It’s 111 feet ¾ inches long, as measured by the Guinness Book of World Records, and packed with an eye-popping display of sweets that’s guaranteed to fill any five-year-old head with sweet dreams for a year. The store was founded in the late 1800s by a Congregational minister named Frederick George Chutters. Chutters came to Littleton to preach but quit for the dry goods business.
11. Chocolate moves to the factory. Boston is home to the first chocolate factory in America. Dr. James Baker and Irish chocolatier John Hannon started the business in 1764 in a water-powered gristmill on the Neponset River. Hannon went to the West Indies in 1779 and never returned, so his widow sold her share to Baker. Baker’s Chocolate Company was bought by a series of corporations starting in 1896; the old mill buildings are condos now.
12. A spoonful of sugar (without the spoon). As long as people have been making medicine, they’ve been trying to mask its taste. And that concept inspired the Davis Drug Store in Pawtucket, R.I. In the 19th century, the store made and sold cough medicine concocted by Dr. Davis. The flavoring of the medicine was so good, Davis also developed a candy recipe. Dr. Davis Braided Candies were so popular that people visiting Pawtucket “would be sure to take some away with them, they liked it so much,” according to Catherine E. Martin Larkin in 1928.
13. Nuts to you, pal! Squirrel Nut Zippers were reputedly named after an illegal drink during Prohibition. The story goes that a Vermont man was arrested for public intoxication and blamed his behavior on local hooch he called “that dang nut zipper.” The vanilla, caramel and nut taffy was a regional favorite. Its maker, the Squirrel Brand Co., survived from 1890 to 1999, when it was the last independently owned candy company in Cambridge. NECCO bought up the license as it evolved into a retro candy maker. Squirrel Nut Zippers made a national comeback during the 1990s when a retro swing band named itself after the candy and gave it out at performances.
14. A Charlestown landmark. The Schrafft’s building in Charlestown was once the largest candy factory in the world, employing 1,600 people. William F. Schrafft founded the company in 1861, originally making gumdrops and candy canes. The plant, which is a landmark and still visible today when driving through Boston, was built in 1928 to turn out boxed chocolates. Frank G. Shattuck bought Schrafft’s in 1898 to run the company’s retail stores, which by 1968 evolved into 55 genteel restaurants, mostly in New York. According to the New York Times, one of Shattuck’s descendants said, “Everyone wore hats and handmade suits. And if you were a lady, it was safe to sit at the soda fountain and drink gin from a teacup.” Corporate ownership destroyed Schrafft’s, as it was first sold in 1967 and then passed from corporation to corporation. The Charlestown factory closed in 1984 and was renovated as offices. The neon red Schrafft’s sign still lords it over the surroundings.
15. Kisses from the seaside. In 1896, Edward and Mattie Talpey established The Goldenrod in York Beach, Me., and generations of beachgoers have been thankful ever since. You can get a delicious meal and ice cream at the store, which is still in its original location a stone’s throw from the beach. But the real attraction is the 8 million or so saltwater taffies, Goldenrod Kisses, which the business turns out each year. If you don’t know where to find it, don’t worry. Just look for the crowds. Every day during the summer, hundreds of visitors press up against the glass windows to watch taffy makers, using the same recipes they have for generations. They cook, mix and pull the taffy until it finally is rolled, wrapped and spit out by the classic machine that whirs in the window all summer long. For a look at The Goldenrod in operation, here’s a video tour of the store.