Category Archives: First Candy

Abolitionists, Resistance, and the Nation’s First Candy – Part 2

Resisters Under the Seat

Salem Waterfront 1770-1780

Salem Waterfront 1770-1780
At the time Mrs. Spencer landed in Salem, slavery had been part of the New England landscape. The first slaves were brought to Boston in 1634 and by the mid-1700s, 2.2% of the population were enslaved. All told, the total population of African Americans was 10% yet even those who were “free” did not have the same rights as whites. While slavery was less common in the early 19th century, it still existed and remained legal until the ratification of the 13th amendment.
Some of the most impressive symbols of Boston were constructed from the “blood and sweat of slaves” as abolitionists called it. Faneuil Hall was built by wealthy slave trader Peter Faneuil and Harvard Law School, financed by a donation from slaveholder and plantation owner, Isaac Royall Jr. to name only two.

It’s hard to know where the enslaved people in Mrs. Spencer’s buggy started. Slaves labored at the ports of Salem and many other nearby places in the 18th and 19th centuries. Likely, they didn’t come from the South, as freedom was too far for escape. Regardless, they traveled on inconspicuous roads and paths, with little food, drink, or chance to rest.

The escaped slaves fled for many reasons, among them the harsh reprisals of slaveholders; starvation and brutality where they worked; and the need to seek out family members who were sold away from them. How they found Mrs. Spencer is also unknown: possibly through a formal network of abolitionists or through informal contacts. They waited out the hours as the buggy rocked on gutted roads, moving slowly forward then stopping when Mrs. Spencer sold her candy, keeping up the guise of normality.

Within the buggy, they were certainly cramped and hungry, whiffs of sea air filtering through the wooden buggy skin, penetrating the suffocating air. There they encountered icy loneliness: outside was a world of strangers where even the sympathetic ones could turn them in or silently let them be caught. Should the worst happen, they could be flogged, branded, imprisoned, returned to slavery, or killed.

Mrs. Spencer resisted enslavement by transporting slaves toward their freedom. The enslaved people resisted, too, by escaping. Some succeeded.

…Stay tuned for the Final Chapter

Norbert Rillieux: All the Sugar that You Eat and a Bizarre Twist

norbert-rillieux

Norbert Rillieux (undated)
Fun (and Informational) Candy Facts

  • Americans get a small amount (about 5%) of their sugar from candy! Most sugar comes from hidden places, from frozen pizza to granola bars.
  • Through most of history, food had a purpose – it was healthy, a medicine, or used in ceremonies. No junk food!
  • Early sugar in North America came from roots, barks, fruits, and grains, including corn!
  • Most Americans eat sugar from a beet – 55%! – and not the sugar cane. What’s the difference? It’s hard to tell!
  • The abolitionists thought they could get rid of slavery by “boycotting” the cane sugar, which was important to the economy of slavery. They used other sugars instead – the beet was one of them.
  • In the 1800s, most of the candies were made in pharmacies.

If you like sweets, eat sweets, or give gifts of made sugar, you have Norbert Rillieux to thank. His story is remarkable and his legacy regarding cane sugar in specific and sugar in general is profound.  He was born in 1806; his mother was a free woman of color, and his father, Vincent Rillieux, a European American plantation owner and inventor. At that time, 25 percent of African Americans in New Orleans were free and mixed couples often raised families together.

Rillieux was a precocious student – so precocious his father sent him to the famous l’École Centrale in Paris where he studied engineering. At twenty-four, he became the youngest instructor of applied mechanics and later, back home, developing a multiple effect steam-operated evaporator that turned raw sugar into sugar crystals.

evaporator

Rillieux’s Evaporator System

At the time, sugarcane production relied on something called the “Jamaica Train”: a process where slaves ladled scorching sugarcane juice from one boiling container to another. Frequently, these workers were scalded to death or endured debilitating burns. Then came Rillieux’s system, where the evaporator did the work, saving lives, enhancing the quality of sugar and expediting the timing of the sugar evaporating process.

In short, it was of the same magnitude as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. And here is the bazaar twist: Rillieux became the most sought-after engineer in Louisiana: evaporator was embraced by widely by such persons as the Confederate secretary of war, Judah Benjamin. Yet, as a “person of color,” he couldn’t sleep at the plantation as a guest or, in some cases, even dine there. As the Civil War drew near, Rillieux faced an increasing number of restrictions, such as the loss of his right to walk along the street. So, Rillieux moved back to France where he died in 1894 and was buried in the famed Paris cemetery of Père Lachaise.

degas

Degas, Suffering City of New Orleans

Eligh Whitney has made his way into the annals of history. Norbert Rillieux is forgotten.  But, an interesting footnote is this: In 1872, French impressionist painter, Edgar Degas was suffering from a bout of artist’s block. So, he decided to visit the home of American relatives in New Orleans. Louisiana, still recovering from the devastation of the Civil War, somehow inspired Degas and fueled some of his finest paintings. The home had belonged to Vincent Rillieux, Senior.  His son, Vincent, Jr, was Norbert’s father. Degas and Norbert Rillieux were cousins.

Source:

Author’s Book “Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Favorite Pleasure.” (Prometheus, 2016)

“I have always held that Rillieux’s invention is the greatest in the history of American chemical engineering and I know of no other invention that has brought so great a saving to all branches of chemical engineering.”

— Charles A. Browne (1870-1947), Sugar Chemist, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Valentine’s Day: Why Hearts?

Vintage Valentine's Day Card - The History of the HeartSo, it’s almost Valentine’s Day and you might be wondering what’s with the cupids and hearts. Excellent question and the answers are many…or none, depending. The origin of the heart, for example, is said to have evolved from the ancient and now extinct plant silphium, used in the fifth century by Romans as a spice and birth control measure – application method unknown.  The plant’s seed pod apparently was heart-shaped.

Heart Shapes on 1545 German Card Deck

Heart Shapes on 1545 German Card Deck

Others claim the heart appeared as a sexual symbol in art around 1250, looking much like an inverted pine cone, while still others say it was an ancient depiction of the anatomical heart. The heart appeared in playing cards of the 1500s and art work (religious and otherwise) of the 14th and 15th century.

Valentine’s Day itself is equally mired in question. According to NPR, the holiday began with the ancient Romans who celebrated a three-day holiday, the feast of Lupercalia from Feb. 13 to 15, where the men sacrificed a goat and a dog, dried their hides and whipped women with them. Apparently the woman lined up for the ritual believing it spawned fertility. Others attributed the origin of Valentine’s Day to two Romans, both named Valentine, who were martyred on February 14th years apart, and yet others to Shakespeare and Chaucer.

1550 Danish Heart Shaped Manuscript of Love Ballads

1550 Danish Heart Shaped Manuscript of Love Ballads

One thing is clear: like Christmas, Valentine’s Day was gift-wrapped and sent to the U.S. because of Queen Victoria whose modes of celebration were quickly adopted here. And, like Christmas, Valentine’s Day owes its swank to a combination of turn-of-century marketing and industrialization, which enabled candy-makers and others to pump out cards, sweets and other gifts with relatively breath-taking speed.

Now, for the candy:

Heart-Shaped Candy Boxes: Thank the Cadbury’s for these – the Quaker family, among others, were instrumental in producing the chocolate we know and love today.

Jelly Hearts: We owe these to the 10th century lokum (aka Turkish Delight), the origin of jelly and gummy candies today.

French Chocolate Truffles - Valentine's Candy

French Truffles

Truffles: Started with the French and their late 1800’s penchant for romance and sex. Truffles and soon chocolates of all sorts became the gift of courtship and come-ons. (Thanks Montezuma and his legacy of many wives for the chocolate)

Hard Candies: From lollipops to love hearts, they evolved from medicines.

Conversation Hearts: Once a weeding candy, the stamped impressions were made possible by Daniel Chase, brother of NECCO-wafer maker Oliver Chase. And that’s why they taste so similar!

Sources:

Huffington Post, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/recycled/2007/02/the_shape_of_my_heart.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_(symbol)

NPR, The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day

Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Favorite Pleasure

The First Pop and Blam of Bubblegum!

When you think of bubblegum, I’ll bet 10,000 gum balls the Fleer brothers don’t enter your mind. But the Fleer brothers started it all. The story begins when Philadelphia native Frank Fleer, born in 1860, joined and later took over his father-in-law’s flavor extracts company. Fleer was in good company: his father-in-law was a Quaker, one of the oldest, most influential, and ethical players in candy history. Within five years Fleer began making chewing gum, some of which he sold in vending machines in the lobby of buildings.

One of the Fleer company’s most impressive accomplishments was created by Frank’s brother, Henry. He added a candy coating to pieces of chicle – a process known as “panning” that dates

Look Who Made this Classic!

      Look Who Made this Classic!

back to the 16th century “sugar plums” and is responsible for such treats as the jelly bean, Jaw Breaker, and Fireball. He called the pieces “chiclets” and the Chiclet we all know was born. Surprised? Most people think the Chiclet was an Adams gum from the get-go (think: “Adams” on the Chiclet boxes). Actually, the Fleers sold the Chiclet to Sen-Sen and, ultimately, to the American Chicle Company, of which Thomas Adams was a part.

Blibber Blubber: The Ill-fated First

            Blibber Blubber: The Ill-fated First

As part of the deal, the Fleer gum company could continue making chewing gum, only the gum couldn’t contain the critical component, chicle. Three years before, Frank had experimented with doing something the big three of the early gum universe – Wrigley, The American Chicle Company, and Beech-Nut – had not attempted: make a gum that could blow bubbles. He succeeded, using natural rubber latex, and launched the first bubble gum ever, called Blibber-Blubber. Shortly after, the Blibber-Blubber bubble popped. The texture was grainy and broke apart and the bubbles were hard to make. Worse, the gum adhered to skin with the ferocity of superglue. By the time Fleer sold his business to American Chicle in 1909, he didn’t have much to do.

But in 1913, Frank Fleer rose again, this time with the Frank H. Fleer Corporation in Philadelphia. The company made candy and trading cards featuring such celebrities as Babe Ruth, Gloria Swanson, and Mary Pickford. All the while, the pursuit of bubble gum continued, even after Fleer retired and his son-in-law Gilbert Mustin took over the business.

During the late 1920s, the company’s cost accountant, 23 year-old William Diemer would sneak into the lab after hours and play around with the bubblegum recipe. He wasn’t a cook, chemist or scientist and didn’t aspire to any of these things. What drove him was probably curiosity mixed with a sense of adventure. Numerous batches failed until finally, he got it right. Well, almost right. The gum didn’t stick and he could blow bubbles, but not if he let the gum sit overnight. In 1928, after more fiddling, Diemer figured it out, and added pink dye, the only coloring he could find in the lab. That’s why bubblegum is pink to this day.

He presented his creation to the company and Mustin dubbed it the misspelled Dubble Bubble. When they were ready to market the gum, Diemer himself went into shops to teach shopkeepers how to blow bubbles, so they could teach their customers to blow bubbles, who would teach their kids to blow bubbles, and their kids, their kids … and an American tradition began!

The Dubble Bubble has lived a long and fruitful life ever since, even appearing in the rations of GIs during World War II. It rose above competition from Topps, who made Bazooka just before the War and took off in the ‘50s, and Baloney made by the Bowman Company of Brooklyn New York, an early maker of trading cards. Today, Marvel Entertainment Group produces 15 million pieces a day. As for Frank Fleer – he died in 1921 and never lived to see his bubble gum succeed. William Diemer never trademarked his invention, never invented new confections, and never left the company. Instead, he became a senior executive and had a career which his wife said, after his death in 1998, was happy.

double bubble

How the Chewing Gum Saved Baby Food and Possibly Ham

Bartlett Arkell was born into a prominent family in 1862. His father was a publisher and state senator, and Arkell carried on the tradition as an editor for 11 years. He left to co-found The Imperial Packing Co, which produced packaging for hams, bacon and lard. No doubt he had help from his friend and mentor, bacon baron Arthur Armour.

Soon Arkell became company president, and under his direction the company excelled. After a friend said the name “Imperial” was ill-suited for an American ham, he changed it to Beech-Nut conjuring images of the American tree and the smoky flavor of his hams. He pioneered the use of glass and vacuum-packed containers and branched the company into everything from peanut butter to soup. Around 1910, Arkell’s brother-in-law, whose own brother helped start the American Chicle Company, suggested that Beech-Nut enter the chewing gum arena. So, they did.

As a person, Arkell was a devote patron of the arts, active supporter of the Canajoharie, New York community where he lived, and a great employer, giving his turn-of-century employees health benefits, pensions, and bonuses. And, like all success in the chewing gum world, Arkell was also a stealth marketer. Among his stints, he hired a traveling circus to showcase his candy and gum and created the personas of the convincingly attractive “Beech-Nut Girls”.

Earhart on the Beech-Nut Plane

Earhart on the Beech-Nut Plane

But the pièce de résistance was when he contracted Amelia Earhart to fly a plane brandishing the Beech-Nut name from New Jersey to Oakland and back. With funding made possible from the publicity from this flight, and additional support from Beech-Nut, Earhart was able to fly from New York to Europe in 1932 and Hawaii to California in 1935 and embark on the around-the-world flight in 1937 that was her end.

Eventually, Beech-Nut became one of the three biggest gum companies in the nation, along with the American Chicle Company and Wrigley’s Gum. During the Depression, when Beech-Nut’s food profits faltered, the chewing gum kept them alive, accounting for $11 of the $18 million in profits that year. In 1931 they introduced strained baby food which they are most known for today.

Bartlett Arkell  Photo: The Arkell Museum

Bartlett Arkell
                                Photo: The Arkell Museum

The Quick Clean Story of Dentyne

This familiar gum was invented by pharmacist. Franklin V.Canning in New York in 1899. The name stood for “Dental Hygiene” and Canning was the first, since the Aztecs, anyway, to position gum as a breath freshener. Canning’s tagline was: “To prevent decay, To sweeten the breath, To keep teeth white.” “Taste the tingle” is new – demonstrates the transition of gum from something that is purposeful to something that creates an experience.

"Classic" Dentyne

“Classic” Dentyne

The Guy Who Invented Chewing Gum – A Life of Many Firsts

John B. Curtis (1827-1897)

John B. Curtis (1827-1897)

John Bacon Curtis was the one who started it all – he ushered in the world of chewing gum, bringing the nation a new pastime and treat. In the process, he ignited many other firsts, most so commonplace we forget anyone could be first to do them.

Curtis was born in Hampden Maine in 1827. He went to common school for a few years then left to help bring in money for his family. He worked as a farmhand and later a “swamper,” clearing the underbrush and forests to make way for roads. At that time, the Native Americans of Maine used the  spruce tree resin to clean their teeth, exercise their jaws, and even heal  skin irritations and sores. They also used the sticky sap to repair their canoes.

Spruce Tree with Sap

Spruce Tree with Sap

It was either Curtis’ time as a swamper, his familiarity with the Native American’s use of spruce resin, or both that gave Curtis, then 21 years old, an idea-why not make a gum that would appeal to a more general market. He, with help from his reluctant father, tested numerous possibilities, boiling the spruce on the kitchen stove, cleaning it, cutting it into strips, wrapping it, and, finally, sealing the deal with their own label. They named the creation “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.”

According to a bio of Curtis written in 1909, he went from store to store trying to sell the stuff for two days but didn’t have any takers. On the third day he found a shop willing to carry it. The gum didn’t sell well at first, but eventually had a limited following – not enough money to support the family in style but, evidently, enough to give them hope. In 1850, Curtis took the gum, patent medicines and other goods on the road as a wholesale “peddler.”

Although the peddler game was competitive, Curtis was aggressive and did well at it. The 1909 account quotes him as saying: “When the other fellows thought I was in bed, I was on the road. By driving nights I got in ahead many times, and had the trade all to myself.” He also claimed to have the best horses available for his buggy – and within a year had traveled throughout New England, raising $6,000.

That amount may have been enough – or possibly not quite enough – to encourage Curtis to expand his time on the road while his father oversaw gum production at home. They got their resin from a new subclass of workers known as “pickers.” An 1889 New York Times article, retold in the Adirondack Almanac (2010), described the position this way:

“…Very few people know how extensive [spruce gum picking] is, or how many people depend on it to help out a scanty living…Most of the Adirondack gum pickers are gum pickers from necessity, not from choice. They are a nondescript class… They are found among farmers, mechanics, lumbermen, guides, and even some of the young and robust maidens who dwell on the borders of the woods.”

To get the sap, the pickers scored – or wounded – the tree. The sap would bubble up to heal and fill the wound which, months later, the pickers would gather with an ax, a long pole with a scraper at the end, or a bucket with a sharp edge. The pickers, as well as other lumbermen and forest workers, might spend days, or even months, in the woods. During that time, they made little boxes with sliding tops, often etched with a design called “gum books.” They filled the interior with chunks of spruce gum which they later gave their sweethearts at home.

"Gum Book" made by the Naturalist today

“Gum Book” made by the Naturalist today

Curtis, meanwhile, broadened his territory, breaking ground as the first Easterner to set up commercial relationships in the Wild West and as one of the first – if not, the first – sales reps in the nation. When you imagine a salesman, you likely think of train rides, circa the Music Man, with crafty salesmen huddled together in coach class, saloons with beds one floor up for the weary (and intoxicated) traveler, and skeptical townspeople who eventually became won over by the sales guy’s quick talk.

But for the first chewing gum salesman, the narrative is entirely different. First his travels predated the railroad, or, as Curtis stated: “In those early days Chicago had but one railroad and nothing but wooden sidewalks, through the cracks of which when the ground was wet the water was projected upward in streams that copiously sprinkled the passer-by.”

This usually meant he traveled by water – rivers, canals, and lakes – and by stagecoach. Here’s what Curtis was quoted as saying about the matter:

“I have passed hundreds of nights camping out on long trips, with only a blanket for a covering and the ground for a bed. We, who drummed the trade in the West then in behalf of Eastern houses, did not mind that, but we did object to the rattlesnakes sometimes. It didn’t pay to have them get too familiar. We were happy when we could travel by canal-boat or by steamboat, but the dreadful Western stages were what tried our patience. Time and again, but for the fact that my samples and baggage had to be carried, I should have preferred to walk, and would have beaten the stages under ordinary circumstances. Many times I did walk, but it was beside the stage, with a rail on my shoulder, ready to help pry the stage itself out of the mud.”

Curtis & Son Factory

Curtis & Son Company  Factory in Portland Maine

Regardless of the harsh travel conditions or, for that matter, the year it took to get paid by customers, Curtis was a stunning success. To keep up with demand, he invented a gum-making machine that enabled them to produce the gum faster and easier than by hand. In 1852, the Curtis & Son Company opened the nation’s first chewing gum factory with 200 employees producing 1800 boxes of gum a day, and the chewing gum industry was born!

Why Curtis stopped making chewing gum isn’t clear. Before he did, he experimented with flavors, such as licorice, and ingredients, including the popular paraffin wax, the parent to the wax lips kids still use today. Competitors bubbled up throughout Maine and beyond but Curtis remained king. One reason could be that Curtis’ father died in 1869, changing the nature of the business. Another could be that spruce resin, in spite of the boiling and flavoring, still had a strong taste and bitter aftertaste – with new and fanciful flavors appearing with the industrialization of food, spruce just couldn’t compete.

It’s also possible that Curtis, who went into dredging, ship-building, mining and, finally farming, was a true entrepreneurial spirit who loved the adventure of breaking ground but had no interest in staying there. And he was good at it – his many endeavors made him a very rich man and he died that way at the age of 70 in 1897.

Regardless, his legacy lived on. The machinery Curtis invented, but never patented, was used for decades afterwards. The chewing gum industry he started blossomed, and his spruce resin continued to play a part. In 1892, a baking powder salesman decided to offer spruce gum as a free gift to encourage people to buy his product. It turns out the customers were more interested in the spruce gum than the powder and the salesman switched careers. His name was William Wrigley and he went on to become the most powerful player in the gum industry anywhere.