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America’s Sweet Beginnings: The History of Candy in the USA



If there’s one thing Americans can actually agree on these days, our love of candy is probably the easiest one! The history of candy in the USA is a long and storied one that spans multiple centuries, and it features a lot of ingenuity on the part of countless resourceful inventors and innovative confectioners. While we look ahead to celebrating the 4th of July, we thought now would be a good time to reflect on some of the most popular American candy makers and their pivotal impact on our uniquely American culture.

From the early days of the 13 original colonies, to the modern global industrial society we have today, America has always been a melting pot of cultures, ideologies, and cuisines. This is perhaps most strongly exemplified in our collective sweet tooth, from hard candies, to chewing gum, gummy candy, and rich chocolate concoctions covering everything you could possibly imagine, we sure do love to enjoy ourselves a sweet treat!

This was showcased most prominently in the early 20th century, when the industrial revolution spilled over into confections, where many inventors and entrepreneurs flourished with unprecedented creativity. Today, the candy market size in the United States has reached a whopping $15.3 billion in 2023 and is expected to continue steady growth for the foreseeable future.

As you will see, candies have played an undeniable role in American history. Candy industry giants have helped shape our culture and our economy at home and abroad. We’ve even sent some of our sweet treats overseas to help fuel our soldiers at times of war. So, join us as we take a deep dive into the history of candy in the United States!

Sweet Treats in the Colonial Era


The European pilgrimage to American was one of the largest migratory movements of humans in all recorded history. From the years 1492 to 1930, more than 60 million Europeans immigrated to the American continent. Many of these early settlers brought some of their cultural recipes for confections with them. The earliest forms of sweets were rather simple; often comprising boiled sugar, molasses, honey, and dried fruits.

Sugar was a rare, high-priced commodity at this time, so these treats were generally reserved for special occasions and were highly prized amongst members of the wealthy elite class. Candy making was primarily a home-based activity, with many recipes being passed down through multiple generations within families and church congregations.

As the 13 original colonies continued to grow, and global trade routes began to take shape, sugar became a much more accessible ingredient. This paved the way for many small-scale confectioners to emerge.

The First Commercially Sold Candy in the USA: The Gibralter

One of the earliest candies sold in the Americas was The Gibralter, it was the first candy to be commercially sold in the United States, and is still being sold today in Salem, Massachusetts. This was a hard candy, much like an old-fashioned after dinner mint, that was white and came in lemon and peppermint flavors. Mrs. Mary Spencer made these candies and initially sold them from a pail on the steps of the First Church in Salem. They quickly became a huge hit, and shops all over town had signage advertising the now popular candies.


Mrs. Spencer was soon able to buy a wagon and sell them regionally in towns and villages across the Massachusetts countryside. Interestingly, Mrs. Spencer was also a soapbox abolitionist, who used a compartment below the seat of her wagon to help transport escaped slaves. By 1806 she had made enough money to buy a house, where she lived on the second floor, opening up the nation’s very first candy shop on the ground floor. This candy store is still operating today, as the Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company.

The Early 19th Century and the Industrial Revolution’s Impact on Candy

The late 1700s and early 1800s were a period of rapid technological progress in the United States. The Industrial Revolution spurred urbanization, and with the significant drop in sugar prices, sweets became more affordable for the working class. This surge in demand led to candy making transitioning from home kitchens to large factories, marking the birth of the American candy industry.

From Medicine to Indulgence: The Evolution of Early American Sweets

Early on, sweets were primarily used by pharmacists to mask the bitter taste of medicines and tonics prescribed by doctors to cure various ailments. In the 18th century, apothecaries would prescribe sugar candies for chest ailments or digestive problems. The idea of a "spoonful of sugar" was quite literal back then – unpleasant medicines, often herbal concoctions, were suspended in sugar to make them more palatable.

The 19th century marked a significant shift as the apothecary and confectionery trades became separate entities. After the Civil War, the price of sugar dropped, making sweets more accessible to everyone. This period also saw the rise of new industrial machines that revolutionized candy production, on a mass scale which made a wider variety of sweets possible for the first time in history.

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One notable example from this era is the New England Confectionary Company, or NECCO. Founded in 1847 by Boston druggist Oliver R. Chase, NECCO's origins are deeply rooted in the pharmacist's trade. Chase invented a machine that automated the lozenge pressing and cutting process, marking the first major evolution in the candy-making industry. In 1901, NECCO was formed by merging with two other innovative candy companies, solidifying its place in American candy history with classic treats like NECCO Wafers and Sweethearts candies that are still enjoyed to this day.

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As candy-making moved from pharmacy counters to dedicated candy factories, sweets transitioned from medicinal uses to purely indulgent treats enjoyed by the masses. This paved the way for the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when iconic candy corporations like Hershey's, Mars, and Wrigley emerged, shaping the landscape of American candy history for generations to come.

The Late 19th Century and Early 20th Century: The Rise of Iconic American Candy Makers

As the country continued to experience exponential growth, the candy industry swiftly emerged as a major force in American culture. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the emergence of several iconic American candy makers who would go on to create some of the most beloved treats.

Early in this period, mellowcremes became popular, especially those shaped like pumpkins, carrots, and other agricultural products. These sweets, made from a mix of corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, fondant, and coloring, were a nod to the nation’s agricultural roots. In the period shortly after the Civil War, the nation’s workforce comprised of more than 50% farmers.

One treat that truly stood out during this era was candy corn. It was reportedly invented by George Renninger of the Wunderle Candy Company. Before World War I, corn was primarily seen as livestock feed. To change this perception, the Goelitz Candy Company cleverly rebranded candy corn as “chicken feed.” By the 1950s, candy corn had become a highly advertised Halloween candy staple. Today, it remains a beloved treat with Americans consuming an estimated 35 million pounds annually according to the National Confectioners Association.

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Another notable candy innovation, jelly beans, beloved for their chewy texture and vibrant flavors, were first developed around the late 1800’s. They are often attributed to a Boston confectioner named William Schrafft, who encouraged people to send his jelly beans to soldiers during the American Civil War. By the early 20th century, jelly beans had become a popular Easter candy, symbolizing the arrival of spring with their bright, colorful appearance.

In 1886, candy industry legend, Milton S. Hershey started his first business: The Lancaster Caramel Company. Soon thereafter, he was inspired by the chocolate-making machinery he witnessed at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. This led him on a history-making journey that would lead to the creation of the iconic Hershey's Milk Chocolate Candy Bar in 1900. This marked the beginning of mass-produced chocolate that was affordable for the average American, which was a massive game-changer for the candy industry.

During this period, candy innovation was booming. In 1896 an inventor and confectioner, Leo Hirschfeld invented the Tootsie Roll, the first individually wrapped penny candy. This chewy candy quickly became a household favorite, offering a rich, chocolate flavor that cemented their place in the nation’s candy pantheon.

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Lammes Candies: A Staple of Texas Confections

Another notable company that came out of this era was Lammes Candies. Founded in 1878 by William Wirt Lamme as the Red Front Candy Factory, the business was reclaimed by his son, David Turner Lamme Sr., after a brief lapse due to his father losing the company in a poker game! After returning to Austin to repay the $800 gambling debt, Lammes Candies reopened on July 10, 1885, and became a family-owned and operated enterprise ever since.

Initially, Lammes focused on ice cream and something they called “Gem” (a frozen fruit dessert kind of like sherbet). But sugar rationing during WWII led the company to shift their production efforts toward chocolates.

One of the company’s hallmark creations, the Texas Chewie Pecan Praline, was perfected in 1892 and remains a bestseller to this day. Using only Texas-grown pecans, the recipe has stayed true to its roots with simple ingredients like corn syrup, sugar, milk, butter, and salt.

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This company brought about numerous innovations to Texas, including the first ammonia refrigeration unit in the Southwest, and Austin’s very first neon sign! Lammes also operated the first soda fountain in Texas. To this day, Lammes Candies continues its legacy of quality and tradition, cementing its place in the hearts of candy lovers nationwide.

The introduction of all these innovative candies laid the groundwork for the explosive growth of the candy industry in the 20th century.

The 20th Century: The Golden Age of Candy

The 20th Century ushered in the modern era of American candy cuisine! By the early 1900s, many iconic brands began to emerge. This era saw a boom in candy innovation and marketing, with new products hitting the shelves regularly. Classic candies like M&M’s, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Skittles became household names, delighting generations of Americans. Candy stores and soda fountains became popular hangouts for kids and young adults, further embedding candy into the fabric of American life.

In 1906, Frank C. Mars started selling buttercream candies out of his kitchen, leading to the formation of Mars, Incorporated, and the eventual creation of beloved treats like the Milky Way and Snickers bars.

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Mars Inc. would later buy out William Wrigley Jr.’s chewing gum company in a 2008 merger, making Mars Wrigley one of the largest privately held companies in the United States. In 2022 alone, the company exceeded over $45 billion in sales!

In 1912, the Goo Goo Cluster was invented by Howell Campbell and Porter Moore at the Standard Candy Company in Nashville, Tennessee. This was the first “combination candy bar” of any kind in the history of candy. This mound of milk chocolate, caramel, peanuts, and marshmallow nougat marked the first time a mass-produced candy bar included multiple elements in one singular bar! We definitely recommend you “go get a Goo Goo, it’s good!”

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This period saw the introduction of hundreds of beloved candies, such as Baby Ruth in 1921, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in 1928, Twizzlers in 1929, Snickers in 1930, 3 Musketeers in 1932, Kit Kat in 1935, M&M's in 1941, Almond Joy in 1946, Jolly Ranchers in 1949, and countless more. The introduction of these products further cemented candy as an integral part of American culture.

The post-World War II era ushered in yet another golden age for candy, with returning soldiers bringing home a newfound appreciation for the sweet treats that had sustained them during the war. The latter half of the 20th century saw such an explosion of new confections that listing them all here would be an insurmountable feat!

The Late 20th Century to Today: Candy Diversity and Innovation

Today, the American candy industry continues to evolve, with new trends and innovations emerging regularly. Health-conscious consumers can find a variety of organic, vegan, and sugar-free options, while adventurous eaters can enjoy the extreme flavors of sour and spicy candies. Popular American candy makers, both old and new, strive to meet the diverse tastes and preferences of modern consumers, ensuring that candy remains a beloved part of American life.

Candy and the 4th of July: Celebrating Independence Day with Sweet Treats!

The 4th of July, a day of patriotic celebration for the birth of our nation has always been associated with sweet treats. From parades and picnics to fireworks displays, candy has played a central role in the festivities. Red, white, and blue-themed candies, such as Tootsie Pops, Mike & Ike, and Sour Patch Kids are incredibly popular choices for Independence Day celebrations. The tradition of enjoying candy during the 4th of July is a testament to its enduring place in American culture.

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From its humble beginnings in colonial kitchens to the bustling factories of iconic candy makers, American candy history is a sweet journey that reflects the creativity and spirit of our great nation. As we celebrate the 4th of July, let’s take a moment to appreciate the delicious treats that have become an integral part of our cultural heritage. Whether you’re savoring a classic chocolate bar or trying out a new flavor, there’s no denying that candy holds a special place in our hearts and taste buds.

By exploring the history of candy in the USA, we gain a deeper understanding of how these delightful confections have shaped our celebrations, traditions, and everyday moments of joy. So, the next time you unwrap a piece of candy, remember the rich history behind it, and the countless individuals who have contributed to making America’s sweet beginnings so memorable.

As we noted throughout the history of American candy, one of the few things that brings us together in a collective sense of joy is our love for all things sweet. We hope you have a fantastic Independence Day weekend, and we hope this article has given you a deeper appreciation for the festive ingenuity of the enduring American spirit!

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