History of Candy: Sweet Learning

Behind every candy wrapper is a story. Here is a concise history of sweets through the many years.
By Karen Sutherland
April 2005

Jelly Beans.

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People love sweets. Americans alone consume 7 billion pounds of candy a year. Our appetites for sweet treats are satisfied by a colorful variety of goodies, and behind every candy wrapper is a story.

It seems the sweet tooth has always been part of the human anatomy. Words for candy appeared in the vocabularies of many ancient peoples.

About 4,000 years ago, Egyptians combined honey with flour and spice, or fruits and nuts, to make their own ancient confections. They even colored the mixture with brilliant food dyes. Because honey was made by bees, and only the wealthy could afford to keep bees, it was not very plentiful. Candy was only available to the rich and powerful.

In the fifth century, Arabs learned that candy could be made from sugar cane. By boiling the cane, it could be reduced to hard crystals, and sugar was born. The Venetians added to this discovery in the 1470s. They found that by repeatedly boiling sugar, they could create a fine-grained sugar.

A lot of people's favorite candy ingredient is chocolate, which is native to the Americas. Spanish explorers returned with the cacao bean. Chocolate has a bitter taste, but the Spaniards found that by adding sugar to the chocolate, they could sweeten its taste.

For more than 100 years, the Spanish kept the discovery of chocolate to themselves, and it wasn't until 1657 that the English opened their first chocolate house. In 1765, the first chocolate factory opened in America.

When our country was settled, colonists learned from the American Indians how to turn hardened maple sugar into candy. They also introduced the colonists to wintergreen, peppermint and horehound flavors.

The first candy sold in this country was made in 1665 by the Dutch on Manhattan Island in what today is New York City. At first, that candy was made completely by hand, and it had to be made fresh daily.

By the end of the 19th century, most towns and villages in the United States had candy stores. Most of it was sold by the piece as penny candy. Among the sweets were cinnamon balls, licorice sticks, peppermint sticks, gumdrops and jelly beans. There were also candies in the shape of watermelon slices, animals, bananas, pickles and flags. The most candy was sold on holidays.

In 1866, Daniel G. Chase invented a machine that could print words on candy. 'Be Mine' and 'I Love You' became commonplace.

In 1869, Henry Heide, a German immigrant, was selling candy door to door when he decided to try producing his own. Working in the cellar, he turned out peppermint sticks and molasses lumps.

He went on to manufacture other favorites like Ju-Jubes™, Jujyfruits, Red Hot Dollars and Mexican Hats.

During the 1893 World's Fair, a caramel maker from Pennsylvania saw chocolate-making machinery from Dresden, Germany, and brought it home to his factory in Lancaster. Milton S. Hershey produced his first chocolate bar in 1894.

Even though manufacturers worked to perfect their sweets, the invention of some of the most popular candies came about accidentally.

A woman who specialized in making peanut taffy added some baking soda to her batter by mistake, and peanut brittle was the result. Another candy maker in Philadelphia was making caramels, but when tasting them, he discovered they were not chewy, but creamy and dry. 'Oh, fudge,' he exclaimed - and a new kind of candy was born.

One candy has a unique shape simply because of the limited capabilities of the machine that produced it.

Charles A. Crane was a small chocolate manufacturer in Cleveland in 1912. Chocolate didn't sell as well in the warm weather, so he decided to design a thin mint to take its place. He went to a friend who manufactured pills and asked him to help press the mints into shapes with his machines.

They were having trouble with the machine, and they discovered that the candy worked better with a hole stamped in the middle. Life Savers were born.

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