Chicago: Candy Capital of America

Chicago has long been known as a transportation hub and an industrial center. However, few are aware that this Midwestern City is considered the nation's candy manufacturing capital. Joel Glenn Brenner in her book, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside The Secret World of Hershey and Mars, published earlier this year by Random House, devotes an entire chapter to the subject entitled "Sweet Home, Chicago".

In his poem, "Chicago", written in 1916, poet Carl Sandburg called Chicago "hog butcher for the world", "tool maker", and a "player with railroads." But even then, author Joel Brenner says, he could easily have added "candy maker" to his litany of the city's industries.

"Chicago is the candy capital of the world. Most people do not realize that but. Chicago has the largest concentration of candy companies in America. You've got "Tootsie Roll" here. You've got the Ferrara Pan Company, which makes "Jawbreakers" and "Red Hots." And you've got Mars here and you've got the Blommer Chocolate Company. Lots of really, really big candy manufacturers are headquartered right here in the city."

Ms. Brenner says that in many ways Chicago was, and still is, an ideal place to locate a candy company.

"A lot of the candy companies came here at the turn of the century because the air was very cool and dry. And they needed a place where they could make their chocolate for as many months out of the year as possible. There was not any air conditioning (then). Chocolate melts at about 78 degrees Fahrenheit (25.56 Centigrade). And it was also great crossroads for all the fresh ingredients they needed. The milk from the Midwest and the corn and the corn syrup, and the sugar cane. So, Chicago was the perfect place to have your company."

Frank Mars moved his small but growing chocolate-bar company to Chicago from Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1927. By 1929, his state-of-the-art Chicago plant was producing more than 20 million candy bars annually.

Joel Brenner says the huge Mars plant on Chicago's West Side still produces most of the "Milky Way," "Snickers," and "Three Musketeer" bars that are sold in the United States. And Chicago was the birthplace of some of the nation's other most popular candy bars.

Many other confections were either invented or once made in Chicago. Their fanciful names are familiar to most Americans -- "Jelly Bellies," "Milk Duds," "Cracker Jacks," the "Oh Henry" bar, "Chuckles," "The Dove Bar," "Turtles," and "Pixies".

Ms. Brenner says the candy industry is currently undergoing a huge consolidation worldwide and the manufacture of many items previously made in Chicago have been shifted elsewhere.

"There have been a lot of changes, a lot of shifts, a lot of consolidation. And it really has had a big effect on the city, though it is still considered the candy capital of the nation. There are still about 25 thousand people in Chicago who work directly in the candy business. It is a big part of the local economy."

In addition to being the home of Mars' biggest U-S plant, Chicago is also still the headquarters of some of the nation's most popular treats. The Wrigley Chewing Gum Company is headquartered here, as is Dove Candies, inventor of the famous Dove Bar. The giant of individually wrapped bulk candy, the Brach Company, still calls Chicago home, as does Fannie May, one of the nations largest and best known makers of boxed chocolates.

Order The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside The Secret World of Hershey and Mars online.

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