Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Recommended: Why the Candy Bar Market Exploded after World War I


By the end of the 1920s, more than 40,000 different candy bars were being made in the U.S.

By: Jessica Pearce Rotondi
Published: 13 January 2021 by the History Channel

Candy bars may seem quintessentially American, but they have origins in the World War I chocolate rations given to European soldiers. The American military followed suit, helping its Doughboys develop a sweet tooth they would bring home after the war. Throughout the 1920s, thousands of small, regional confectioners emerged to meet the demand, creating a candy boom brimming with catchily named bars based on popular expressions, pop culture icons, and even dance crazes. (Hello, Charleston Chew.) The goal of the most ambitious new sweets makers? To take a bite out of a candy business dominated by Hershey’s, the planet’s biggest chocolate maker.

While the history of chocolate consumption stretches back 4,000 years to ancient cultures in what is today Mexico and Central America, the U.S. story of chocolate has strong military associations.

In the earliest decades of the United States, candy was quickly recognized not just as a sweet treat but also as a valuable way to fuel troops. During the Revolutionary War, chocolate, a favorite treat of George Washington, became part of his soldier’s rations. It was prized for its combined kick of caffeine and sugar; it even served as occasional payment to American troops in lieu of money. Candy also played a role in the Civil War, used as “a provision with quick energy and lots of sugar,” says Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America.

While the first chocolate bar was created by Joseph Fry in Great Britain in 1847, and Cadbury began selling individual boxes of chocolate candies there as early as 1868, it would take the outbreak of war on a global scale for the chocolate candy bar to really take off.

In World War I, the British military gave soldiers chocolate to boost morale and energy. The mayor of York sent a tin of hometown confectioner Rowntree’s chocolates to residents in uniform, and in 1915, every UK, soldier abroad received a “King George Chocolate Tin.”

Not to be outdone, the American Army Quartermaster Corps solicited donations of 20-pound blocks of chocolate from confectioners back home, which they then cut down and wrapped by hand. When U.S. servicemen returned from the war with an insatiable appetite for chocolate, they arrived back just before the onset of Prohibition—when Americans actively sought alternatives to alcohol to boost their energy and mood, from soda to ice cream to candy. By the end of the 1920s, more than 40,000 different candy bars were being made in the U.S., says Susan Benjamin, candy historian and author of Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Favorite Pleasure.

During the candy bar boom, nearly every major city had a set of confectioners cranking out as many types of candy bars as they could, filling them with everything from nougat, marshmallow, and nuts to fruits and dehydrated vegetables. (Yes, really.) Because a lack of widespread refrigeration and transportation issues remained a barrier to national distribution, regional brands dominated each market, creating bars with names that appealed to local pride. The Charleston Chew took its name from a local dance craze. The 18th Amendment Bar was born in Chicago during Prohibition. “It was the birth of modern marketing. Since most bars used the same six or seven ingredients, people were furiously trying to figure out how to differentiate their brand,” says Almond.

Candy companies often named their popular bars after pop culture icons: “Charles Lindbergh begat both the Lindy and the Winning Lindy. Clara Bow begat the It bar. Dick Tracy had his own bar. So did Amos ’n’ Andy and Little Orphan Annie and Betsy Ross,” Almond says.

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