Tag Archives: dum dums

The First Penny Candies: What’s Missing and Why?

Necco Wafers

Penny candy has been a favorite for kids since the burgeoning industrial age of the mid-1800s. They could buy an array of sweets in general stores, tobacco stores, and apothecaries. The Ohio Journal of Education, in an 1857 publication, Lessons in Common Things, listed a few of the selections: Cream candy, popcorn, peppermint, molasses, rose, clove, butterscotch, sugar plums, lemon drops, lemon candy, peppermint drops, French kisses, cinnamon, ice-cream, wintergreen, sour drops, horehound, lavender, gum drops, vanilla, Rock, birch, cats-eyes, and kisses.

Look carefully at this list and you’ll notice a difference from lists of today which would more likely read:  Dum Dums, Ring Pops, Smarties, and, on a good day, NECCO Wafers. In other words, then we had candy. Now we have brands.  And speaking of brands, it’s worth asking why the NECCO wafer, originally called the Chase Lozenge, or generically a soft paste candy, didn’t make the list. Made in 1847, it was among the nation’s first, if not the first, penny candy.

Here’s why: up through the mid-1900s, candy was a blend of local, handmade treats and some sold by peddlers and salesmen. Each town had their own assortment, many ethnic, courtesy of immigration. In the 1920s, for example, up to 100,000 varieties of candy bars were on the market, compliments of small candy-making enterprises, some produced in the kitchen or basement of the business owners’ homes. Candy, like all food, told a story about places and people that were shared for a penny or less.

I know, I don’t have to tell you, candy today is all about brand, such as Ghirardelli, Lindt, Hershey and many others who, ironically, got their start in the 1800s. Today’s candy gets more and more sour and the chocolate gets darker and darker or more and more fanciful, depending on whether it’s targeting health-conscious grown-ups or kids. But it doesn’t really vary that much. Even the small family-owned candy stores are startlingly alike: chocolate covered nougats and creams of tasty but limited range.

Somewhere, buried inside the ingredients list, are stories but nothing like the all those other stories that never make the shelves.  Who knows what the candies taste like and the stories reveal, but it would be amazing to find out.

The Not Dumb Dum Dum

The Dum Dums lollipop was first made in 1924 by the Akron Candy Company. According to manufacturer Spangler, who purchased the company in 1953, they produce12 million Dum Dums per day and about 2.4 billion Dum Dums each year.

The reason for its success goes back to the 20’s with I.C. Bahr, a company sales manager. At that time, marketing was no longer a tacky sales pitch. It was all about strategy, demographics, and imagination. Marketing had risen to a heyday which, to be frank, has yet to end. Good salesmen knew that the candy’s name could be translated into dollars, and no one knew more that Bahr. He named the lollipop “Dum Dums” knowing that kids could remember the names and ask their parents to buy some.

Today, more Dum Dums are given away than any other sweet. Not so dumb the Dum Dum.

Don’t like the Dum Dums you’re eating? Try another, any other.

Dum Dums started out with seven flavors: lemon, lime, orange, coconut-pineapple, cherry, grape, and butterscotch.   Over the years, flavors came and went. Chocolate, for example, was in in 1955 and out five years later. In 2000, the company added Buttered Popcorn, but was “sent on vacation” a year later which indicates to me it might return. Today, the flavors include a caveat for creative license, aptly called the Mystery Flavor™, and these:

  • Blueberry
  • Blu Raspberry
  • Bubble Gum
  • Butterscotch
  • Cherry
  • Cotton Candy
  • Cream Soda
  • Fruit Punch
  • Grape
  • Lemon Lime
  • Orange
  • Peach-Mango
  • Root Beer
  • Sour Apple
  • Strawberry

Lest you think the manufacturer has slacked off in their marketing acumen, forget it. The newest invocations: Dum Dums Crafts. Yes, you can make Dum Dums topiaries, Dum Dums infused wreaths, Dum Dums Sparkling Drinks, and my favorite: the Dum Dums Candy Flower in Dirt. Oh, and more. Did I forget to say that? Here you go: http://www.dumdumpops.com/crafting.

 

Source:

Susan Benjamin Sweet as Sin, (Prometheus, 2016)

http://www.dumdumpops.com/about-us