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The other day Nestle’s announced it was selling its U.S. confectionary business, which includes brands such as Butterfinger and Baby Ruth, as well as Nestle’s Crunch Bar.
Now I’m partial to Baby Ruth over Butterfinger, by a mile, with both introduced in the early 1920s by the Curtiss Candy Co. of Chicago. [Baby Ruth is not named for Babe Ruth, but Curtiss took advantage of the seeming tie, though never paid Ruth a cent in royalties. I won’t get into the Grover Cleveland’s daughter angle, because it might not be true either. I don’t think we’ll ever really know what the bar is truly named after.]
But what of Chicago and the candy industry? I found an old piece by Jill Elaine Hughes in the Chicago Tribune and “once upon a time, the Chicago candy industry was an economic powerhouse. At its height in the mid-20th century, the Chicago candy industry included more than 100 manufacturers, employing more than 25,000 people and producing a third of all the candy in the United States.”
Tribune reporter Joseph Egelhof raved in 1951: “Every time you go to a candy counter and purchase a bar with one of the well-known wrappers, you help prove that the mighty brand name is still an American institution. Chicago’s confectionery business, the world’s largest, has a prize collection of these multimillion dollar labels.”
Chicago became a natural for this industry because of its central location, as well as access to rail transport and agricultural goods.
But Chicago also had a large immigrant population and thus cheap and experienced labor. Many of the immigrants came from countries with candymaking heritages, such as Germany and Italy.
Back in 1896, Chicago’s F.W. Rueckheim and his brother Louis created a caramel popcorn confection. One of their salesmen tasted it and said, “That’s a crackerjack!”
William Wrigley got into the chewing-gum business when he realized it was more profitable than selling baking soda.
Frank Mars allowed his wife to choose the name for Milky Way.
Emil Brach was the king of penny candies like lemon drops and caramels.
George Williamson of Williamson Candy Co. named the Oh Henry! bar, which was the most popular candy bar sold in the U.S. in the late Teens. [This was named for an electrician who frequented Williamson’s store and flirted with the female candymakers.]
And it was Otto Schnering who created Curtiss Candy Co., producer of Baby Ruth and Butterfingers.
The Oh Henry! bar, by the way, sold for 10 cents, and Schnering decided to sell Baby Ruth for 5 cents, marketing it under the slogan “Everything you want for a nickel.”
Curtiss then introduced peanut-butter crunch Butterfinger, which while I love peanut-butter, such as Reese’s (and Funny Bones), I just never got into this one.
Otto Schnering would diversify his business into cattle breeding and poultry, using the eggs and milk in his candymaking, while selling his famed “Curtiss chickens” to high-end Chicago-area restaurants.
Schnering was apparently a super owner, going to four six-hour shifts during the height of the Great Depression to help keep more people working, and he would bring employees and their families onto his farm for picnics and parties.
Schnering died in 1953 and his sons eventually were bought out by Standard Brands, which was later part of Nabisco and then Nestle.
Wall Street History returns in two weeks.