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updated: 5/30/2012 11:50 AM

Elmhurst exhibit explores Chicago's Candy Land past

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  • Eighth-graders from St. Mary of Gostyn School in Downers Grove get an introduction to "Sweet Home Chicago: The History of America's Candy Capital" at the Elmhurst Historical Museum from museum curator Lance Tawzer.

       Eighth-graders from St. Mary of Gostyn School in Downers Grove get an introduction to "Sweet Home Chicago: The History of America's Candy Capital" at the Elmhurst Historical Museum from museum curator Lance Tawzer.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Mars made favorite candy bars such as Snickers, Milky Way and 3 Musketeers, which originally came in three pieces with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry fillings.

       Mars made favorite candy bars such as Snickers, Milky Way and 3 Musketeers, which originally came in three pieces with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry fillings.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Cracker Jack gained exposure at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, but was not named until 1896.

       Cracker Jack gained exposure at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, but was not named until 1896.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Allyson Lederman, left, and Gianna Sansone, second from left, see how fast they can wrap at the Twisted Candy Challenge.

       Allyson Lederman, left, and Gianna Sansone, second from left, see how fast they can wrap at the Twisted Candy Challenge.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • This advertisement is for one of Wrigley's favorite gum flavors.

       This advertisement is for one of Wrigley's favorite gum flavors.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Eighth-graders from St. Mary of Gostyn school in Downers Grove laugh while they watch Lucille Ball try to wrap candy on an assembly line in an episode from the "I Love Lucy" TV show.

       Eighth-graders from St. Mary of Gostyn school in Downers Grove laugh while they watch Lucille Ball try to wrap candy on an assembly line in an episode from the "I Love Lucy" TV show.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

 
 

Here's a quick quiz for those with sweet tooths.

• What is the all-time best-selling candy bar in the United States?

• How did Cracker Jack get its name?

• Which Chicago candy was a tourist attraction?

You can find the answers to those questions and more at "Sweet Home Chicago: The History of America's Candy Capital," an exhibit up through Sept. 30 at the Elmhurst Historical Museum, 120 E. Park Ave., Elmhurst.

Chicago reigned supreme as the nation's top candy maker from the late 1800s until at least the mid-20th century. Even today, no other place has laid claim to the title, said Lance Tawzer, curator of exhibits.

"Over one-third of all candy was made in Chicago," Tawzer said.

Tawzer created the exhibit in collaboration with Leslie Goddard, local historian, lecturer and author of the upcoming book "Chicago's Sweet Candy History."

Goddard, who has given talks on Chicago's candy-making history for several years, said Chicago dominated the candy world from the late 1890s until the 1950s thanks to transportation, ready access to commodities such as milk and cornstarch, and its varied population.

Prominent candy makers included Brach (German), Ferrara (Italian) and Andrew Kanelos (the Greek founder of Andes Candies), immigrants who brought their European craftsmanship to the city.

"I think you cannot downplay the immigration influence. That is one of the things that really amazed me," Goddard said.

Even Chicago's less-than-desirable winters proved to be a bonus to early candy makers, Tawzer said.

"Chicago's cold winters were optimal for storing chocolate," he said.

Created to be a traveling exhibit that may make its next stop at a major Chicago institution, the display includes panels on major candy manufacturers, from Mars (makers of Snickers, named after a favorite family horse), to Wrigley (makers of Spearmint, Juicy Fruit and Doublemint gum) to Tootsie Roll (still occupying 2.3 million square feet near Midway Airport).

Anyone wanting to know more can use their smartphone to scan the QR Code to link them to a manufacturer's website, where available.

There's plenty of fun, hands-on stuff, too. Visitors can try lifting a 50-pound bucket of sugar paste, test their candy knowledge by identifying a candy bar by its cross-section, or apply for a job in a candy factory in the "Twisted Candy Wrapping Challenge."

Tawzer said he got the idea for the challenge from the famous "I Love Lucy" episode in which Lucy desperately tries to keep up with the candy-wrapping assembly line. The "Lucy" video is available for viewing, along with an original "Candyland USA" piece narrated by Bill Kurtis, and classic candy commercials.

For Elmhurst area residents, the exhibit offers up local nostalgia with a display on Keeler's Candies, which closed its store on York Street in 1992.

"Keeler's Candies was a candy store in Elmhurst for a long time," Tawzer said. "It was an institution."

Patrice Roche, the museum's marketing and communication specialist, said schools, camps and culinary historians are booking tours. Tawzer said the museum also is inviting candy manufacturers to bring their employees to the exhibit.

Candy making isn't as big in Chicago as it used to be. Brach shifted its operations to Mexico. Fanny Mae went bankrupt, then moved its production to Ohio. But there's still a lot of candy making around.

Blommer Chocolate Company, North America's biggest cocoa processor, has a factory on West Kinzie Street in Chicago. Ferrara Pan Candy turns out Lemonheads, Boston Baked Beans, Red Hots and the like in Forest Park.

Curtiss Candy sold to Nestlé, but the Butterfingers and Baby Ruths are still made here. World's Finest Chocolate makes candy for fundraising organizations.

Newer and innovative candy companies such as Vosges Haut-Chocolat are creating truffles and candies with exotic flavors such as curry and bacon. Not to mention, the National Confectioners Association still chooses to hold its annual Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago, Goddard said.

"The candy industry here isn't as dominant on the national candy scene as it once was," she said. "But I think it's easy to overstate the impact (of the companies that have left Chicago) when you look at the field today."

So whether a visitor once worked in a candy factory, has fond memories of a favorite childhood treat or is a kid with a sweet tooth, the exhibit is designed to appeal to all age groups, Tawzer said.

"(For) our summer exhibits, we try to go to the lighter side of history," he said. "We knew the demographics that would be interested in this exhibit would be a wide range."

Now, about those quiz questions. Snickers is, indeed, the all-time best-selling candy bar. Cracker Jack gained exposure at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, but went without a name until 1896 when a salesman exclaimed, "That's a Cracker Jack!" And the Chicago candy that became a tourist attraction? Frango Mints, of course.

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