Tag Archives: American candies

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 Story of the Peppermint Pattie (via the ice cream cone plus Junior Mints and a quick peek at the John Birch Society)

Traveling through Pennsylvania in March

Traveling through Pennsylvania in March

I’ve been traveling around the country, north and south, on my endless search for historic candy. To the north, I went to farmland in Pennsylvania where I passed the most astonishing vistas of farmhouses and fields…just stunning.

A while back, I was in that same area where I found a group of women baking in a Mennonite farm/bakery. I asked if they knew anything about sauerkraut candy: it originated in Germany and is made with actual sauerkraut.  They didn’t – and thought the whole idea was pretty funny. Would they be willing to try a batch? I had the original recipe. They thought that was even funnier. This time, the long winter was still causing the area to shudder with cold – no bakeries, candy shops, small farms with traditional treats. All I could find was the town of York – home to none other than the York Peppermint Pattie.

I also went to the outer banks of North Carolina where I had much better luck finding traditional candy – more about that later. One fabulous seafood place with to-die-for fried okra had but one candy for sale which was the…York Peppermint Pattie! Coincidence? Or was Henry C. Kessler, who invented the Peppermint Pattie, reaching through the heavens where he surely rests to request that I tell the story. So here goes:

The Story of the Peppermint Pattie (via the ice cream cone plus Junior Mints and a quick peek at the John Birch Society):

Henry C. Kessler opened the York Cone Company in the 1920s. Ice Cream Cones were relatively new in the U.S., although their origins go back to the 1700s in Europe. When exactly the ice cream cone made its debut in the U.S. isn’t entirely clear, but it was certainly broadcast at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and became a classic American treat thereafter. Henry Kessler joined in, adding confections to his list of offerings.

At that time, chocolate covered caramels, bonbons, and others along that line were old hat: suitors had been giving their intendeds chocolates for decades. But the chocolate covered peppermint was substandard: the peppermint was soft and gummy. According to Mike Argento of the York Daily Record, in 1940 Kessler figured out a way to make the center crisp, firm and delicious. He named the new creation the “York Peppermint Pattie”. Soon, Kessler was selling the treat throughout the Northeast, Florida, and places in-between. In fact, the Pattie became so popular Kessler gave up his ice cream cone business and focused exclusively on that.

But Kessler was not alone. Plenty of candy companies jumped onto the Peppermint Pattie bandwagon, including James O. Welch. In 1949, in Cambridge Mass, he developed a smaller version of the iconic sweet called the Junior Miss. Welch was no light-weight in the candy world: a native of North Carolina, he started his company in 1927 and went on to manufacture such iconic candies as the Milk Duds, Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies, according to the Cambridge Historical Society. His brother, Robert, started his own company called the Oxford Candy Company. After it went belly up in the Depression, Robert joined his brother only to leave in 1956 and co-found the John Birch Society.

As for the Junior Mints: the candy was named for Junior Miss a popular book written by Sally Benson in the1940s. It was serialized in the New Yorker and went on to become a Broadway hit and Shirley Temple radio production. The Junior Mints, which were small enough to navigate in the dark, became a movie theater favorite.

Still glamorous, today.

Still glamorous, today.

The Junior Miss stayed in the family…more or less. Welch’s company was bought out by Nabisco in 1963 where Welch remained director until 1978. His son, who had joined his father’s business after completing Harvard and serving in the Navy, became president and chief operating officer of Nabisco Inc. In 1981, that company merged with R.J. Reynolds Industries, to form Nabisco Brands, Inc. Welch Junior became president of the parent company, according to an AP newswire announcement at the time. Today, current owner Tootsie Roll Industries, produces more than 15 million Junior Mints a day in Cambridge.

And Kessler’s York Peppermint Pattie? After a number of corporate owners, it is now manufactured by Hershey in Mexico.