On February 23, 1896, a candymaker from Austria opened his shop in New York City. His name was Leo Hirschfield. Never heard of him? You’ve probably heard of his work.
As the story goes, in that shop Hirschfield came up with the Tootsie Roll. It is one of the twentieth century’s classic candies. Not long after, he merged with Stern & Saalberg Co. They wanted to produce the candies on a bigger scale. They did this after seeing how popular his creation was.
The wax-paper-wrapped sweet was produced in NYC beginning in 1905. It was the first candy to solve two confectionery issues. Although it had a chocolatey taste, the penny candy didn’t melt. And it was individually wrapped.
This was at a time before there was A/C and refrigerators. Candy-sellers spent the hot summers trying to sell candies like taffy and marshmallows. They could stand some heat without melting. Chocolate, on the other hand, was nothing but a sticky mess in the summer weather.
“The genius of Tootsie Roll was to create a summer candy that was a flavor never before seen in summer candies, the flavor of chocolate.” That's according to “Candy Professor” Samira Kawash. She also authored a book about the history of candy.
The patent linked with the Tootsie Roll-making process describes how Hirschfield achieved that hard-but-not-too-hard texture. It still characterizes the Tootsie Roll today. The Tootsie Roll is a pulled candy. Most pulled candies are “light and porous” after being made. But the Tootsie Roll was baked at a low temperature for about two hours. Afterwards it would be shaped and packaged. The idea was to give the treat “a peculiar mellow consistency.” The patent reads that the texture would help it maintain its shape and not melt.
The Tootsie Roll, whose recipe is basically the same today, wasn’t that chocolatey. But say you had a craving. It was better than anything else on the market. And it was cheap, an important factor in helping candy growth. When the Tootsie Pop came along in the early 1930s it quickly became a Depression-era favorite. This is according to Retroland.
Then WWII happened. Food historians remember that conflict as a turning point in the history of processed food. The Tootsie Roll (like other nominally chocolate-flavored rations) was right there on the front lines. This gave the candy company an early form of a government contract, writes the Dodge Legal Group. It kept them making candy while the war effort shut down many other confectionaries. It also helped cement American affection for the candy.
After the war, the Tootsie Pop had its moment on early television. It had an iconic advertisement. It featured Mr. Owl and friends.
The official Tootsie Roll website says this 1970 ad was the first to ask the “How Many Licks” question, but by far not the last.
The candy is still around today, even though many other candies invented around the same time have fallen out of style. One such was Bromangelon Jelly Powder. “Jelly desserts were all the rage at the turn of the century,” writes Kawash. She wrote this in a separate piece. “Jell-O is the only one we remember, but around 1900 you could have your pick of such temptations as Jellycon, Tryphora and Bro-Man-Gel-On.”
Based on her research, Kawash believes that Hirschfield may have been working for the Stern & Saalberg company well before the invention of his signature candy. And she thinks that he also invented Bro-Man-Gel-On/Bromangelon.
A four-syllable name for “Jello”? No wonder it didn’t stick.