2 days before Halloween seemed the perfect time to write about candy. Who doesn’t remember the sweet, tantalizing taste of some of our favorite childhood candies? Saving up large portions of our allowances so that we could buy a secret stash of sweet sugary goodness was just part of the deal. By some fortuitous stroke of luck, I was spared the proverbial sweet tooth and used up my allowance dowry to buy Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House on the Prairie” books.
There were those tempting moments though at Grandma’s house. As sure as the sun rose in the East, her hobnail milk glass candy dish always held its place of honor on the coffee table. It was customary to peek inside and discover just which selection of Brach’s candy she had chosen from the Pick-a-Mix candy bins at the grocery store. Sometimes it held an assortment of hard candies, but most often Jelly Nougats. They were those sticky Brach’s classic cubes, each embedded with tasty jewels of fruit jelly. Things change as we grow up, and unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, candy becomes less and less important. But every once in awhile everyone has a craving to have a piece of their favorite “chewy,” if only so they can relax and pretend they’re kids again.
Brach’s Candy was one of the earliest, most successful candy companies, and no doubt, it carries a piece of nostalgia for many of those who have reached “seniordom.” In 1904, German immigrant Emil J. Brach pulled together $1,000 to open the "Palace of Sweets," an 18×65 foot turn of the century candy shop located on the corner of Chicago's North Avenue and Towne Street. Joined by sons Edwin, and later, Frank, Brach's store featured its own one kettle candy kitchen. From the start, Brach sought methods for boosting production while reducing labor costs, and early on introduced not only a mechanized kettle heating element, but also a device for dipping taffy, Brach's initial product.
The Great Depression era hit the candy industry hard. Candy sales, which had reached nearly $448 million in 1914, fell to $211 million in 1933. Brach's sales dropped as well. Nevertheless, the company remained profitable, posting a net income of $175,000 for that year. By that time, Brach employed more than 1,000 people, making the company one of Chicago's largest employers. Sales climbed slowly through the 1930s, returning to $7.9 million in 1938. The outbreak of the Second World War again tested the candy industry with shortages of sugar and other raw products. Yet, emerging from the war, Brach's sales had tripled, to $21.5 million in 1945.
By the end of the next decade, Brach's sales more than doubled, reaching over $58 million in 1960. Its twenty three acre Chicago plant was the largest candy factory in the country. A second, 30-acre site was purchased in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1959. Brach's line had grown to 250 types of candy, including hard candies, chocolates, fudge, peanut, caramels, cremes, jellies, lozenges, and panned candies, with specialty items for Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and Valentine's Day. Production in the Chicago facility alone topped 4 million pounds per week, making Brach the country's largest candy producer.
Unfortunately, the advent of the candy bar signaled the end of the penny candy era, but for a stroll down memory lane, just browse the list for a nostalgic look back in time at some the all time candy favorites: Root beer barrels, Abba-zabba bars, Atomic fire balls, Bit-o-honey bars, Good n plenty, Malted milk balls, Hot tamales, Wax bottles and lips, candy cigarettes and lipstick, Mike and Ike licorice, Raisonettes, mints and lemon drops, and don’t forget the still popular Candy Corn! While the candy lovers are out there getting their sugar high, I’ll probably be having my “senior moment” by reading “These Happy Golden Years.” Perhaps I’ll even be wearing a candy necklace.
Candy Trivia: Brach's candy pumpkin, known by the trademarked name, “Mellowcreme Pumpkin,” is the most popular candy pumpkin of all times.
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