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Sweets in the City

Louis XIV Candy Shop at 163 State Street. Published by Curt Teich & Co., Chicago.

Since the late 1800s, Chicago has been the "home sweet home" of a  number of candy companies, making it known as the "candy capital of the world."

Chicago made an ideal place for candy-making for a variety of reasons. The city’s location near the center of the U.S. made it a transportation hub, and its proximity to the Great Lakes made it easy to ship raw ingredients in and finished products out. Chicago also had a strong labor force made up largely of immigrants, who worked in candy factories or opened sweet shops using candy recipes from their homelands.

Charles Gunther is believed to be the first person to produce and sell caramels in America. An immigrant from Germany, Gunther ran a successful candy factory and store, first on Clark Street and then later on State Street after he rebuilt his business following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

At the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Cracker Jack and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum were available for fairgoers to sample. A 38-ft. chocolate statue and German chocolate-processing machines were also on display. Milton Hershey purchased one of these chocolate-making machines at the fair and used it to make Hershey's chocolates back in his home state of Pennsylvania.

The popularity of William Wrigley Jr.’s gum, which he originally distributed as an incentive to customers of his soap and baking powder business, inspired him to switch his facility over to a gum-manufacturing plant. His Spearmint, Juicy Fruit, and Doublemint gum made Wrigley’s one of the most popular brands of gum in the country. Wrigley’s has since been acquired by Mars, but it still maintains a research and development facility on Goose Island.

By the early 1900s, Chicago was home to over 1,000 candy suppliers. The National Confectionery Association and The Manufacturing Confectioner magazine were also founded in Chicago, although these organizations have since moved to other locations.

 Emil Brach opened Brach’s Palace of Sweets near North Ave. and Halsted in 1904. His business would eventually expand to four operating factories, producing mostly bulk and bagged candy. Brach’s became one of America’s top-selling brands of candy corn--that Halloween confection many of us love to hate.

John Kranz Candies on State Street.  Postcard publisher is unknown. 

The Ferrara candy company was founded in the Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago in 1908. The company would go on to produce Lemonheads, Red Hots, Chuckles, Jujyfruits, and many others. Ferrara also makes candy canes, jellybeans, and conversation hearts, those chalky candies with the cheeky messages that have become so closely associated with Valentine’s Day. Ferrara’s headquarters are located in the Old Chicago Main Post Office building on Van Buren Street, and it now owns Brach’s candy.

Racehorse owner H. Teller Archibald opened the first Fannie May candy shop at 11 N. LaSalle St. in 1920. By the 1930s, the business grew to nearly 50 stores throughout the Midwest. Fannie May’s Pixies, consisting of a winning combination of caramel, pecans, and chocolate, would become its most popular offering. Fannie May shops can still be found throughout the Chicago area.

With alcohol being illegal during the years of Prohibition (1920-1933), many bars across the country reopened as candy or soda shops. Schlitz taverns throughout Chicago followed this trend. Many breweries also switched to manufacturing sweets, finding new ways to use malt in ice cream drinks and candies like malted milk balls.

In 1929, Marshall Field & Company introduced its recipe for Frango Mints. These mint chocolate truffles were made in large melting pots on the 13th Floor of Marshall Field’s State Street store for nearly 70 years. Production of the candies has since moved out of state. However, the giant pots are still on display and Frango Mints can still be purchased at the State Street store, which is now a Macy’s.

Almost half of the country’s processed cocoa comes from the Blommer Chocolate Company, a chocolate wholesaler founded in Chicago in 1939. Blommer now operates chocolate processing plants across the globe. If the wind is blowing in just the right direction, you can smell the chocolate in the downtown air thanks to the Blommer processing plant that still operates today at 600 W. Kinzie in the West Loop.  

Gunther's Confectionery on State Street.  Postcard publisher is unknown. 

Today, Baby Ruth and Butterfinger candy bars are manufactured in suburban Franklin Park. Chicago is home to the Tootsie Roll factory on the South Side, which has been in operation since the late 1960s, and a Mars chocolate factory on the North Side, which has its own stop on Metra’s Milwaukee District West line. (As a side note, when I was a kid my older sister had me convinced me that this building was Willy Wonka’s magical chocolate factory.)

The next time you unwrap a piece of candy or take a bite of something sweet, chances are it has some connection to Chicago, the “Candyland” of the U.S.

Written by Emily Ruzich

 Sources:

Chicago Loop Alliance: https://loopchicago.com (“Sweet Home Chicago: Celebrating Chicago’s Candy History” by Brittany Tepper, 2015)

L Stop Tours blog: https://lstoptours.com/blog (“13 Iconic Candy Makers in Chicago” by Tom Schaffner, 2019)

University of Chicago Library website: https://lib.uchicago.edu (“History of Chocolate and Candy Making in Chicago”)

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