It’s hard work making a simple icon.
Imagine you’re a factory worker in Cincinnati way back in 1880. It’s mid-summer, there’s no air conditioning, and the temperature inside the plant is well over 100 degrees. You’re dressed in a heavy leather apron. You’re handed a 45-pound pail of boiling hot white liquid. Walking backwards, you have to carefully fill a set of metal molds exactly 1/3 of the way to the top. Next, you go back to where you started, and grab a second 45-pound pail of hot liquid, this time colored orange. Again walking backwards, you fill the same molds to the 2/3 mark. And then, to complete the process, you go back to the start, get a third 45-pound pail of yellow liquid, and, walking backward, fill the molds right up to the top. The full molds are taken away, you’re given a fresh empty set, and you repeat the process. About 50 times a day, 10 hours a day, 6 days a week.
Thus was born candy corn. It was first made by the Goelitz Company of Cincinnati in the 1830’s. The company barely survived an economic panic in 1893, moved to North Chicago in 1912, and was so successful there that it couldn’t keep up with demand. Then came the Great Depression, and candy corn prices dropped from 16 cents a pound to just over 8 cents. The market rebounded after World War 2, but in 1975 a spike in sugar prices forced the company to close the Chicago plant and relocate to California . Soon after, the company became enormously successful making Jelly Bellies, especially once Ronald Reagan took office.
Today candy corn is still made the same way (though now by machines and computers), and with the same basic recipe of sugar, water, egg whites, coloring and flavoring. Each piece has 6 calories, 1 gram of sugar, and no fat. There are other flavors and color varieties, but the original tri-color version remains the standard. Candy corn is an almost entirely American institution and is virtually unheard of outside the U.S. and Canada . Most of it comes from just two companies, Goelitz of California and Brachs of Texas. Over 6 billion “kernels” are made each year, weighing in at over 20 million pounds. And it’s only purpose in life is to celebrate Halloween: more than 90% of all candy corn eaten this year will be consumed in the next few days.
Which is why today, October 30, is National Candy Corn Day.