America has always had a sweet tooth. Long before it was a name on a map, the first inhabitants enjoyed maple syrup as a snack. European settlers introduced a whole host of sugary snacks that they had brought with them from the Old World. Most of these treats were sweet meats or confectionaries, though they were often referred to as candy.
Sugar candy was popular and widely available in early America. Many people made treats like licorice, marshmallows, marzipan, pralines, and sugar plums at home and served them for dessert. Before long, candies that could be sold individually, like peppermints, were offered at general stores, often for a penny.
The Industrial Revolution took candy out of the home and into the factories. By the middle of the 19th century, there were more than four hundred of them that made, packaged and shipped nothing but candy. Sales skyrocketed as skilled chocolatiers and creative candy men introduced iconic new products and brands.
The first major candy milestone in America was made by Whitman, who introduced the first box of chocolates in 1854. A few years later, candy corn, Tootsie Rolls, and cotton candy were invented. These newfangled treats could be found at most country fairs and carnivals across the land by the turn of the century.
The world famous Hershey’s chocolate bar was introduced in 1900 and was followed a few years later by Hershey’s Kisses. According to candy historians (yes, there are such people!), this was the beginning of the golden age of candy when most of the treats we enjoy to this day were first introduced. Between 1900 and 1950, names like Baby Ruth, Milky Way, Snickers, M & Ms, Milk Duds, Reese’s, Red Hots, Junior Mints, and many, many more entered the American lexicon.
Where are we now?
Candy is an enormous industry in the United States, though it has always been highly seasonal. Americans dole out nearly six hundred million pounds of candy on Halloween alone, about two pounds for every citizen. That’s around 1.8 billion dollars in sweets! They also buy over two billion candy canes to hang on their trees and stuff into stockings on Christmas. Then there’s Easter and Valentine’s Day, which are definitely chocolate-centric holidays. All told, Americans spend several billion dollars on candy each year.