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Hilde Lee: Secrets of famous candies

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Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 7:00 am | Updated: 4:23 pm, Tue Jan 22, 2013.

 

Happy Halloween. Trick or treat? I sincerely hope that the vicious acts that have been associated with Trick or Treat have gone by the wayside and that our children can continue to enjoy Halloween.

Many of the sweets of Halloween are almost part of our everyday lives. Items like Life Savers and candy bars are taken for granted, although they have a history of their own. Hard candies, which originated in England, and chocolate, which was first produced in Massachusetts, have been around for a long time. So here is the story relating to two candies.

The year was 1912; the place was Cleveland, Ohio. At that time a chocolate manufacturer named Clarence Crane was going through his customary summer doldrums. Summertime, in those days of infrequent air-conditioning, was bad for the chocolate business. The heat melted the chocolates, and demand at that time always fell off. Crane decided that he needed a confection that stayed fresh and appetizing regardless of the temperature.

He opted for a hard candy mint. At the time, the only mints on the market were square and somewhat pillow-shaped items imported from Europe. To differentiate his product from those of the competition, Crane hired a pill maker to press each of his mints into a circle with a hole in the middle.

This unique shape of candy led to the name. Those round candies with the holes looked very much like miniature life preservers. Thus, Crane called them Life Savers and quickly registered the name with the U.S. government.

Although Crane was something of a genius at candy innovation and product design, he knew nothing about advertising. It was a New York advertising man, Edward Noble, who took Life Savers on their international road of success.

When Noble first heard about Life Savers, he was selling streetcar advertising cards in Manhattan. He immediately abandoned the cards, got on a train to Cleveland and set up a meeting with Crane. To his amazement, Crane had no ambitions for Life Savers beyond using them locally as a summer fill-in for chocolates, his primary interest.

“If you think Life Savers has such a future,” Crane told Noble, “why don’t you buy the rights and make them yourself?”

That’s precisely what Noble did, even though the price was terribly high in relation to his financial condition. He had to get backing from a childhood friend in order to come up with $2,900.

Some 60 years later, there were 26 flavors of the candy with the hole in the middle.

Just before World War I, Americans discovered that the taste of peanuts and chocolates together was a hit. In Chicago, at that time, a 25-year-old entrepreneur, Otto Schnering, leased a small room over a plumber’s shop. There he installed a five-gallon kettle and a rented stove. After hiring four employees, he grandly announced the formation of the Curtiss Candy Company.

For several years, the Curtiss Company just managed to get by as Schnering and his associates tried out one candy recipe after another. All were tasty and wholesome, but none was an instantaneous success at the cash register.

Then, in 1920, the Curtiss Company hit the jackpot. Almost overnight it went from obscurity to high-volume industry leadership. Soon there were five factories in various parts of the country producing Curtiss candy.

The miracle that made the difference for Curtiss was a log-shaped candy bar named Baby Ruth. Contrary to rumors that began to circulate, the name was not derived from the famous baseball player, but from the daughter of former President Grover Cleveland. As an infant, Baby Ruth had been the nation’s pet.

Just six years after its introduction, Baby Ruth became the world’s most popular candy, outselling every other candy bar. Eventually Curtiss added other candies, including another super star — Butterfinger Candy Bar. They all were priced at 5 cents.

Today we still enjoy candy bars. Happy Halloween.

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