Human beings have had a love affair with candy for centuries. The first record of candy as part of the culinary arts can be found as far back as 3000 BCE. It was honey and sesame seed confection called Halvah. For centuries following nuts, seeds, fruits and plants were coated with honey and often dried to create various types of sweets. The candy we would recognize today was not invented until the Middle Ages when trade routes open to India introduced cane sugar to the Europeans. This new sweetener became popular and it was discovered the sugar was able to be cooked, melted and infused with other flavors and modern candy was born.
Origin of the Term Penny Candy
It was these small sugar candies, individually wrapped and sold, that would become popularly known as Penny Candy in the United States. By definition now, Penny Candy is the name for any of the wide variety of different individually wrapped and sold candy that has a history of over 50 years. The penny in the name penny candy refers to the fact originally the pricing was approximately a penny per piece though much of the candy was sold in bulk by the pound rather than the piece.
Popular Penny Candies
The first individually wrapped and sold Penny Candy came with the 1896 introduction of the Tootsie Roll. Following closely on the heels of the Tootsie Roll was the Sweethearts which were introduced by the Civil War candy company Necco Wafers. Chocolate Candies entered the Penny Candy market with the advent of Hershey’s Kisses in 1907. Other popular penny candies introduced over the years included: bottle caps, licorice, candy corn, bubble gum, jawbreakers and licorice. Although not a penny candy there was some resurgence in the bulk confectionery market with the sell by pound 48 flavor Jelly Bellies.
Bulk Confectionery Then and Now
Although penny candy had been sold for years in small pharmacies, markets, and special ice cream and candy stores a large part of its popularity came from F.W. Woolworth Company’s original five and dime stores. Woolworth’s penny candy aisle became as synonymous with the store's identity as their lunch counters. They created the popularity by bringing penny candy to every main street in America, and cementing it as part of our cultural heritage. When the Woolworth chain closed its U.S. stores in the 1980’s much of the popularity of penny candy died out. Today there are specialty penny candy stores in various locations throughout the United States and supermarket chains still sell candy in bulk, but penny candy as it was known is now relegated to the ranks of retro and nostalgia.
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