Your favorite Halloween candy probably has Chicago ties
By Alice Bazerghi —
Come Halloween, it’s a good bet that whatever candies your trick-or-treaters bring home were invented in Chicago or produced here.
Some of the biggest candy companies in the country were founded in Chicago. They include the Curtiss Candy Co., maker of Butterfinger and Baby Ruth, and Holloway Candy Co., which made Milk Duds.
Leaf Candy Co., creators of the Whopper, got its start in Chicago.
So did: Ferrara Pan Candy Co., which makes Lemonheads and Red Hots; the company that makes Tootsie Rolls; and the one that makes Jelly Belly.
And, of course, Cracker Jack. And Wrigley Gum, which debuted Juicy Fruit at Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
“At a certain point, you feel like it’s easier to list the candies not invented or made in Chicago,” says Leslie Goddard, who wrote the 2012 book “Chicago’s Sweet Candy History” (Arcadia, $21.99).
In the late 1800s, Chicago was the center of the candy industry. It was where Mars was headquartered and where Snickers and Three Musketeers were invented.
And the city was still dominating candy decades later.
“If you walked up to a candy counter in the ’30s or the ’40s, there’s a one-in-three chance that whatever you bought would have been made in Chicago,” Goddard says. “It was the biggest candy-making city by a huge margin.”
A big reason Chicago was “Candy Capital” of America was that the city was a huge transportation hub. The ingredients, like butter and sugar, used to make candy were flowing through Chicago and readily available for candymakers, Goddard says.
Once the candy was ready, it also could be shipped quickly all over the country.
“In the 1970s, Brach’s, during its peak season, might be shipping out up to two million pounds of candy a day, so they needed transportation to get the finished candy out quickly but also to get all the raw ingredients to make it quickly,” Goddard says.
Being a center of transportation also drew suppliers, like sugar refineries and milk-product refineries, and companies that made cardboard boxes, according to Goddard. Which kept candy-makers’ costs low, another incentive to be in Chicago.
Emil Brach, Otto Schnering, Salvatore Ferrara, Andrew Kanelos, Gustav Goelitz — all were immigrants who built small, Chicago candy businesses into nationwide brands.
In the 19th century, many now-famous candy-makers began by making pieces in their own kitchens and selling them in bakeries. They added machinery as the business grew.
“It was fairly simple to set up a candy business,” Goddard says.
She says there was a ready market among other immigrants who wanted their favorite treats from their home countries. Ferrara, for example, started making Italian confetti (Jordan almonds) for Italians in Chicago who wanted them for weddings — a tradition. He expanded to candy-coated peanuts and other candy-shelled confections. From there, the company took off.
Chicago isn’t the candy center it once was.
“A lot of the brands from Chicago have been bought by Mars and Hershey’s,” Goddard says.
Today, those two companies dominate the candy aisle at any grocery store, with about two-thirds of candy being sold coming from one of them.
Milk Duds and Whoppers are now sold by Hershey, and Holloway no longer exists.
But some of the most iconic companies still remain in Chicago. Like Tootsie Roll and Ferrara Candy Co., which will soon move its headquarters to the Old Main Post Office “just a few miles away from the family bakery where it all began,” in the words of a Ferrara spokesman.
Mars and Nestle still operate factories in Chicago, too.
Then, there’s Blommer Chocolate Co., the biggest wholesale chocolate-maker in the United States. If you’ve ever wondered why it smells like chocolate when you’re walking downtown, that’s Blommer, on Kinzie Street west of the Merchandise Mart.
“It’s not all what it used to be, but this is still a major city for candy,” Goddard says.
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