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For those of us over the age of 25, when you think of Halloween candy you think of candy corn, those sugary little spikes of Halloween cheer. They've been around for as long as I remember and even as long as my grandparents remember but did you know that they were invented in the 1880's? Who the first person to make these tasty treats was is unknown but the Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia was the first to go into commercial production. However, the company most closely associated with this wonderful confection is the Goelitz Confectionery Company. Founder Gustav Goelitz, a German immigrant, began commercial production of the treat in 1898 in Cincinnati and is today the oldest manufacturer of the Halloween icon.
Making candy at the turn of the last century wasn't the highly mechanized, year-round activity it is today. Candy was manufactured seasonally from March through November. Large kettles were used to cook the basic ingredients of candy corn, sugar, water, and corn syrup into a slurry. Fondant for smooth texture and marshmallow for a soft bite would be whipped in. When the right consistency was reached the hot candy would be poured into hand-held buckets called runners. Each runner holding 45 pounds of the hot mixture.
Next, men called stringers would walk backward pouring the steaming candy into trays of cornstarch imprinted with kernel-shaped molds. Three passes were made, one for each white, orange, and yellow color. A strenuous job at best before the days of air-conditioning and electric fans.
All this strenuous labor wasn't lost on the tiny candy. It's tricolor design was considered revolutionary for its time and people flocked to buy them. Their shape was also a big selling point for the mostly agrarian population of the early 1900's. So popular was candy corn that companies tried other vegetable shapes including turnips. The Goelitz Candy Company even had to turn orders down for lack of production capacity.
Candy corn was originally sold in bulk containers like most foods products of the time. They were packed in wooden buckets, tubs, and cartons to be delivered by wagon and train over relatively short distances. Perishability prevented widespread distribution.
During WWI, Herman Goelitz, son of Gustav, moved to Fairfield, California to start his own company, the Herman Goelitz Candy Company. Their product? Candy Corn! The fortune of the Halloween treat would rise and fall many times as recession and boom, war and peace, affected the humble confection. Throughout the hard times it was the sale of candy corn that kept the companies afloat. In the sugar crisis of the mid 1970's when the price of raw sugar skyrocketed the company had to borrow heavily to buy sugar to keep production up. After the crisis the market plummeted. Many companies went out of business. It was demand for the candy corn that kept Goelitz from bankruptcy.
Today you won't have to look very hard to find candy corn. Computer and machine aided production have made them a plentiful staple no matter what time of year. So plentiful in fact that according to the National Confectioners Association, in 2001 candy manufacturers sold more than 20 million pounds of candy corn. Roughly 8.3 billion kernels! Very impressive for a product that has remained virtually unchanged for well over 100 years.
Perhaps best of all, everyone can feel comfortable about enjoying tasty kernel or two. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, candy is no different than a slice of bread, bowl of cereal or a cracker when it comes to causing tooth decay. Any food that contains sugar or starch can cause tooth decay – especially if one doesn’t brush and floss daily. So grab a bag of candy corn and enjoy. Just remember to brush your teeth after.
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