Candy corn is to Halloween what the candy cane is to Christmas. We may not dream of eating either of them, but each is the iconic candy for its holiday.
For candy corn, that’s a David-vs-Goliath accomplishment. Kit Kats, M & Ms, peanut butter cups, Hershey bars, Hershey kisses, licorice, or Snickers, all could have come out on top. Instead, the lowly, bite-size bits of orange and yellow candy have long been the October holiday winner.
Candy Corn 150 Years Old
Candy corn was first sold almost 150 years ago. While details are a bit hard to pin down, George Renninger, a young candymaker in Philadelphia, is thought to have been the first person to create this candy.
Renninger was selling candy from a cart on a street corner in Philadelphia when a fellow named Philip Wunderle stopped by to sample Renninger’s product. Wunderle owned a candy manufacturing company, and he must have liked what he tasted as he offered Renninger a job. Renninger spent the rest of his career creating new products for Wunderle.
Candy Corn and the Wunderle Company
Was candy corn the item that Wunderle sampled the day he purchased candy from Renninger on the street corner? No one knows for sure. But the Wunderle Company soon began making what we now know as candy corn.
The early versions were created in several shapes. In addition to corn kernels, Wunderle produced leaves, pea pods, little turnips, and other vegetable shapes. Some historians speculate that the candymaker was appealing to the country’s agrarian past at a time when more and more people were taking jobs in cities.
Making Candy Corn
The ingredients used in the original recipe are still the primary ingredients today: sugar, water, and corn syrup. (Over the years, fondant was added to improve texture, and marshmallow was mixed in for flavor.) The ingredients were heated in large kettles and stirred to the right consistency. The result was called “slurry.”
Using mold trays that featured inverted triangles, candy corn was poured in three stages. Making the white tip first, a worker carried a still very warm and heavy (about 45 pounds) kettle and slowly poured the white slurry into the tip of the mold. After the first layer cooled and hardened, workers poured the next layer (orange). Finally, the yellow slurry was poured into the end of each little triangular mold. When the candy fully hardened, workers popped the candy kernels out of the molds, and the candy was topped with a polishing layer.
In the days before automation, making candy corn was physically exhausting. The kettles were heavy and to pour the mixture carefully required concentration. For that reason, the candy company took candy corn out of production for about four months each year. The process began in March and went through until November, providing plenty of candy for Halloween. The candy also went well with Thanksgiving themes, so that extended the market a bit.
Candy Corn Made by New Company
Initially, the source for candy corn was Wunderle. In 1898, another company entered the market: the A & G Goelitz Confection Company.
The original Goelitz candy business began when three brothers from Germany moved to Belleville, Illinois. Once settled, they started a shop like the one they ran in Germany. The company’s specialty was making butter creams.
They moved their company to St. Louis to be in a larger population center, and they did well for a time. But in the financial crisis of 1893, they were forced to declare bankruptcy.
Candy Corn or Chicken Feed?
As the economy improved in the mid-1890s, the Goelitz sons wanted to revive the business. Americans loved sweets, and if they had a few extra pennies, they were happy to spend it on candy. In this atmosphere, Adolf and Gustav, Jr., formed A & G Confectionary Company.
This was the company that made the first Goelitz candy corn, selling it as “Chicken Feed.”
The Goelitz’s may have bought the recipe from Wunderle or crafted their own version of candy corn. No matter, Goelitz is the company that firmly established candy corn in the marketplace. It quickly became their top seller. Their efforts are the reason we know about it today.
Candy and Wartime
World War I brought change to the candy industry. The Goelitz Company split into two entities. Two of the partners moved to the West Coast to sell candy there. At that point, candy was not shipped far, so the other partners did not view this effort as competition. The Midwest company was relocated north of Chicago for easier transport of supplies and product.
When World War I ended, candy makers encountered the Depression. As many as 878 candy makers filed for bankruptcy. Those who persevered were to encounter more challenges during World War II. Sugar was rationed, and it was hard to find employees, but people craved sweets. When candy was made, it flew out of the stores.
And candy corn kept selling.
Changes at Goelitz Prepared for Future
Hard work and a little luck are usually part of any success formula, and the Goelitz Company found they had both. As the family business turned 90, they added a new product—mini-jelly beans (1976). These jelly beans were special. Goelitz created a formula that flavored the bean inside and out. (Jelly beans of the past had flavor only in the exterior coating; the interior was just blandly sweet.)
A candy distribution driver offered another idea that was to change Goelitz history. David Klein (some sources say Kline) suggested the company introduce unusual flavors. To start, the company added root beer, cream soda, green apple, licorice, and tangerine. These mini-beans popped with flavor and became a huge success. Someone in the company recommended calling them jelly bellies, after he blues singer, Leadbelly.
Jelly Bellies and Candy Corn Still Popular
Jelly bellies were also marketed differently. Instead of selling bags of mixed flavors as had been done traditionally, consumers could purchase by color and flavor.
By the late 1970s, the two branches of the Goelitz Company combined again. Their business truly took off when then-Governor Ronald Reagan became a fan… but that’s another story.
In the meantime, other companies have entered the candy corn market. Whether you like the candy or not, you are guaranteed that you’ll be able to find it each Halloween. Some companies are now making candy corn in colors that relate to Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July in order to extend the market.
How did the custom of Trick-or-Treating begin? Here’s the answer.
Or for a story about another pleasurable treat, read about Double Bubble.