What is the Oldest Candy Company in America?
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Posted on 19 Sep 2012 20:06

The oldest mass-produced candy product that has been continually produced in an unchanged form is probably the NECCO wafer. This does not mean, however that the New England Confectionary Company (NECCO), is the oldest candy company, although they may be the oldest mass producer of candy. This distinction is always important!

The company is responsible for such old fashioned candy classics as Sweethearts, those little candy hearts with romantic messages on them, and the once famous and still sought NECCO wafer. Other favorites include Clark Bars, Mary Janes, Candy Buttons, and Squirrel Nut Zippers. NECCO formed from the merging of several companies in 1901, but the company traces it's roots to the original founding of the Chase and Company of Boston, founded by Oliver Chase in 1847 and run by him and his brother, Silas Edwin Chase.

Sweethearts first appeared in 1902 and were originally called Conversation Hearts. They are still the best selling valentine's day candy. NECCO Wafers, which are disks of various flavors, such as peppermint, wintergreen, cinnamon, and chocolate, of different colors, that came packaged in rolls. These came in 1912 and were originally called Peerless Wafers. Both wafers and Sweethearts are made from the same basic recipe.

The company also sold, for some curious reason, the same NECCO wafers under a different name, called "Hub Wafers." These were the same product except wrapped in a transparent paper wrapper instead of a glazed one, like the NECCO wafers. At this time the company sold over three hundred sweets, many of them chocolates or hard candies, what was in those days called "penny candies."


Old NECCO Wafers magazine ad

Very old NECCO Wafers Magazine Ad

Old NECCO Wafers magazine ad

Very old NECCO Wafers Magazine Ad




Early advertising for NECCO focused on popularizing the trademark, as applied to all their products in general, but focusing on the NECCO brand as a guarantee of quality, and the "NECCO seal," which appeared on packages. Few individual products were advertised, except for the wafers. Although this may seem like a strange strategy by today's standards, it makes sense if you know that most of the company's products were packaged in bulks and did not reach the customer in its original package. Only a few products, where candies were packaged in convenient multi-packs of some kind, were appropriate for individual advertising, and among these, the NECCO wafers were the most appropriate.

In 1937 the company rolled out the Sky Bar, with an over-the-top air-writing campaign. The candy bar came in four different sections, each with a different flavor, and was called the "Candy Box in a Bar." The flavors were caramel, vanilla, peanut, and fudge. The company also produced the Bolster Bar, a peanut crunch bar covered in chocolate.

The company's Mary Jane products were the result of its acquisition of Stark Candy Company in 1990. NECCO bought the Clark Bar in 1999. Several other important acquisitions have been made, and today the company consists of three divisions: NECCO Candy, Stark Candy, and Haviland Candy.

If you have fond memories of these NECCO products, but can't find them where you live, don't worry, you can still order NECCO candies online.

NECCO Products (Original and Acquired)

  • Banana Splits


banana split candies by NECCO

Banana Splits

banana split candies by NECCO

Banana Splits

  • Canada Peppermints
  • Canada Wintergreen
  • Candy Buttons
  • Clark Bar:
    • Milk Chocolate Clark Bar
    • Dark Chocolate Clark Bar
Clark bar cut in half

Clark Bar

Clark bar cut in half

Clark Bar

  • Haviland:
    • Original Thin Mints
    • Double Chocolate Thin Mints
    • Orange Thin Mints
    • Raspberry Thin Mints
    • Bridge Mix
    • Chocolate-Covered Raisins
    • Double Dipped Peanuts
    • Nonpareils
    • Haviland Wintergreen Patties
  • Mary Janes
Mary Jane Candies

Mary Jane Candies

Mary Jane Candies

Mary Jane Candies

  • Mighty Malts
  • Sky Bar
Sky Bar (candy) spilt open so filling shows

Sky Bar

Sky Bar (candy) spilt open so filling shows

Sky Bar

  • Slap Stix
  • Squirrel Nut Zippers
Squirrel Nut Zippers

Squirrel Nut Zippers

Squirrel Nut Zippers

Squirrel Nut Zippers

  • Sweethearts:
    • Sweethearts
    • Dazzled Tart Sweethearts
    • Chocolate Sweethearts
    • Sugar Free Sweethearts
    • En Español Sweethearts
  • Wafers:
    • NECCO Original Wafers
    • NECCO Chocolate Wafers
    • NECCO Tropical Wafers

The Oldest Candy Company

While NECCO wafers may be the oldest recognized candy product in the United States, NECCO itself is clearly not the oldest candy company, as some sources attest. It is hard to be sure of the oldest company! After all, the oldest "candy company" may well have been operating quietly on some unknown street in an unknown city without ever calling enough attention to itself to get in the history books, or to be nationally recognized.

One company that claims to be the oldest, and may well be, is Ye Old Pepper Candy Companie, operating continually in Salem Massachusetts since 1806. Notice the archaic spelling of the word company! You can read the company's history on it's website. According to Food Lover's Guide to Massachussets, from 2003, it is claimed that their signature product, the Gibralter, never spoils. The authors say there was a jar of the candies on the counter that were made in 1830.2 The Gibralter, according to the company, is the first commercially made candy in the United States. Black Straps, the first candy made from Blackstrap Molasses (according to the co.) is also one of their original products. I highly doubt this statement to be true. Making candy with molasses is not exactly an original idea. Today, the Ye Old Pepper Candy Companie has branched out and sells many other products such as chocolates, fudge, brittle, hard candy, and taffy.

Do you have memories of these iconic NECCO candies? I remember candy buttons, Clark Bars, and Mary Jane's, but, sadly, I never had Squirrel Nut Zippers until I grew up. What was your favorite candy as a kid? Share in the comments!

Image credits: Many thanks to Evan Amos for providing these great candy images, and much more. Visit Evan's wikimedia page for free public domain images and also his Flickr page, chocked full of candy package images.

References
1. Kimmerle, Beth. Candy: The Sweet History. Portland, OR: Collectors, 2003. 132-135.
2. Harris, Patricia, and David Lyon. Food Lovers' Guide to Massachusetts: Best Local Specialties, Markets, Recipes, Restaurants and Events. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot, 2010. 133.
3. Smith, Andrew F. The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.
4. "Necco - An American Classic." NECCO®. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. <http://www.necco.com/>.
5. "Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie." Web. 19 Sept. 2012. <https://peppercandy.net/>.

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