How sweet it is: Necco Wafer, Tootsie Rolls, and Sugar Daddy
Jun 6, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Sometimes reading the news can be a downer – but recently I found a good headline and want to share because it combines two of my favorite things: candy and happy endings. This development got me thinking about the candy brands of old – allow me to present a trio of sugary goodness & tell me about your favorite sweet treat in the comments!
We’ll start with the focus of that headline – the noble Necco wafer! These yummy discs were the brainchild of English immigrant Oliver Chase. In 1847 he invented the first American candy machine, cleverly called the lozenge cutter (he should have channeled his inner Willy Wonka on that name!). The wafers were the first product made by his shiny new invention and they became an instant hit – and a staple for Civil War soldiers. The gents on the front line called these treats hub wafers. In fact, you’ll find Necco wafers at the hub of many major historical events. Around the turn of the century, in 1913 the Arctic explorer Donald MacMillan gave them to Eskimo children he met on his journey – an action that was repeated by his contemporary Admiral Byrd during his infamous expedition.
Later, during WWII the government placed a mass order to ship out to the brave soldiers overseas. A little taste of home in far flung places had to bring much comfort. Whether on the front line or the frozen tundra, these sweet wafers never let you down! Each roll contained the classic flavors of: lemon, lime, orange, clove, cinnamon, wintergreen, licorice, and chocolate. Necco wafers were the first member of the New England Confectionery Company and this group went on to create other well-known goodies like Sweethearts (that Valentine’s Day go-to), Clark Bars, and Mary Jane chews.
Who would have guessed that the late 1800s was such a bustling time in the candy industry, but by 1896 the iconic tootsie roll burst onto the scene. Founded by Leo Hirschfield, he sold the treats for a penny a roll. Nice price! And what’s even nicer, he named his candy after his daughter (cue the collective… awwww). The tasty bits proved to be in such demand that in a few short years they were being made in a New York City factory and numerous buggies were delivering tootsie rolls across the Northeast. By the mid 1900s they embraced modern technology (also known as the automobile) and delivery trucks were broadening the reach of the sweet tootsie roll.
Our soldiers may have nibbled on Neccos on the battlefield, but they clamored for tootsie rolls when they got home. During the Great Depression Leo responded to a beleaguered clientele with the invention of the tootsie pop. Tough times possibly made a bit easier by trying to figure out how many licks it takes to get to the center! Fun fact – Frank Sinatra was a huge fan of the candy & rumor has it he is even buried with some tootsie rolls.
By now it’s pretty obvious that candy has a big impact on pop culture, but Sugar Daddy has a special place in the history books. Both a saying and a sugary treat – let’s dive in a bit more, shall we? Around the turn of the century the heir to a massive sugar fortune, Adolph Spreckels (yep, that’s his name) fell in love. Not an uncommon event, but what makes this a bit unique is that the object of his affection was 24 years his junior. Adolph’s young bride Alma had a special nickname for her wealthy husband – sugar daddy. The term took a few decades to catch on, but the roaring 20s helped grease the wheels. Soon the term caught the attention of candy entrepreneur Robert Welch, who started selling the caramel lollipops by the mid 1930s. In time the same group that owns Tootsie Rolls took on this brand as well – proving that mergers in the candy world are a bit sweeter than the average business transaction!
Tell me dear readers, which vintage candy brands would make your top three? And if you’ve figured out how many licks it takes to get to the center of the tootsie pop – be sure to let us all know!