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You probably noticed that we subtitled this blog, “A history of the birth of the lollipop” rather than “The birth of the lollipop.” Well, that’s because there are so many “historical” versions of the origins of the lolli, almost as many as the tongue licks in a lollipop.  Although the saying, “there’s a sucker born every minute” is often attributed to the famous American circus showman P.T. Barnum, no one really knows its origins. You’ll discover here why this saying might just as easily have been said by someone trying to follow the story of the lollipop.

Legend has it that the origins of lollipops (sometimes spelled lollypops) can be found on cave paintings of people licking sticks used to collect honey from beehives. Also, there’s evidence that the ancient Chinese, Arabs, and Egyptians made candied fruit and nuts using honey and inserting sticks into the sweet mixture, thereby making it easier to eat. This sweet mix was originally used for preserving fruits and nuts rather than as a sweet treat (Food Timeline).

Candy Apples                                                                                                                                           Chinese Candied Fruit – Tanghulu

By the 17th century, as sugar from the Caribbean became more plentiful for the English, sugar moved from simply being a medicinal base to something sweet to eat. Richardson, in his 2002 book, Sweets: A History of Candy, writes that the distinction between the medicinal and confectionary uses of sweets was blurred from candy’s very beginnings, creating a sort of crisis for apothecaries. Richardson writes that at the time, pharmacists were quite scornful of the confectioners probably because the candyman could sell sweets to those looking for something tasty rather than something to simply cure an ill.

The 16th Century physician, Tabernaemontaus, claimed this of sugar candy: “As a powder it is good for the eyes, as a smoke it is good for common colds, as flour sprinkled on wounds it heals them.” Pierre Pomet continues these claims in his book A Compleat History of Drugs (1712) where he says “Put into the eyes in fine powder, they take way their dimness, and heal them being bloodshot, as they cleane old sores, being strew’d gently upon them.” (Richardson, 2002)

As described by Henry Weatherley in his 1864 book, A Treatise on the Art of Boiling Sugar, the English boiled sugar and inserted sticks into the sweet treat to make eating the sugary substance less messy. This boiled sugary treat on a stick marks the beginning of the first modern sugar lollipop.


Rock Candy

 

Sugar Pop (Rock Candy)

By the mid 1800s, confectioners were selling their sweets on the streets including rock, stick, lozenges, and candies all made by boiling sugar (Richardson, 2002). Many of the sweet sellers were also making these sweets in their cellars.

Lollipop Fact:Linguists say that the term ‘lolly pop’ literally means ‘tongue slap’ (which we find hilarious) since the word for ‘tongue’ is ‘lolly’ in Northern England and ‘pop’ means ‘slap.’ The London street vendor may have coined this term when vending the sweet delight. Although this was likely a soft rather than hard treat it is still considered a possible forerunner to the modern lollipop.

By the time of the Civil War, hard candy was put on the tips of pencils for children. They  loved the candy on a stick so much that in the early 20th century automation technology created a lollipop manufacturing industry. Who is considered the original creator of manufactured lollipops? Well, again as it seems with all of candy history, sucker origin stories abound.

In the first sweet origin version, dating back to the 1880s, Arthur Spangler, from Bryan, Ohio, was one of the first makers of chocolate to put a stick into the caramel candy he was making, probably for the same reason everyone before him did—to avoid packaging and causing a sticky situation in customers’ hands.

Around the same time as Spangler, George P. Smith of Bradley-Smith Candy Company in New Haven, CT decided  to put a stick into the balls of caramel candy he was making. Keep your eyes out for George Smith as we will hear more about him later in this candy story.

Salted Caramel Lollipop                                                                                                                                            Modern Salted Caramel Lollipop

Another candy birth legend involves the owner of the McAviney Candy Company who in 1905 is said to have stumbled upon the lollipop by accident. The company made boiled hard candies that were stirred with a stick, and at day’s end, the owner brought the sticks covered with the candy home for his kids to enjoy.  By 1908, McAviney Candy began to market these “used candy sticks.”

Apple Lollipop                                                                                                                                Candy-Coated Stick (Apple Cinnamon Spoon)

Sucker Machine                                                                                                                                                  Modern Lollipop Machine

In 1908, the owner of the Racine Confectioners Machine Company from Racine Wisconsin, introduced a machine that placed a stick into hard candy at the rate of 2,400 sticks per hour. Owners believed they could produce enough lollipops (although they weren’t called that yet) in a single week to supply the nation’s demand for an entire year. They were called the “all-day sucker.”

Bradely Smith Company                                                                                                                                                     Bradley Smith Company

And, remember George Smith from earlier in this blog, of the Bradley Smith Company. Well he said: “Hey, we started the lollipop!”  Smith took credit for inventing the modern version of the lollipop which he began making in 1908.  Hey, anyone else noticing how 1908 shows up again and again in these candy origin stories?  Well anyways, back to Smith. In 1931, Smith trademarked the term “lollipop,” where legend has it that he used the name of a famous racehorse named Lolly Pop. For many candy historians, the naming and trademarking of “candy on sticks” as lollipops marks the origins of the lollipop.  Hey, notice the word lollipop connecting back to the 17th Century phrase ‘tongue slap,’ remember?

All Day Sucker                                                                                                                                                         Born Sucker Machine

By 1916, a Russian immigrant, Samuel Born, invented an automated process for inserting the sticks into the candy batch. And, this machine was called the Born Sucker Machine. Sweet name for a machine, ey. Anyway, the City of San Francisco considered this machine so creative that, in 1916, they granted him the “keys to the city.”

So there you have it. Lots of tongue lick slapper stories for the birth of the lollipop. But, don’t try to say that last line five times fast–or your tongue will be slapping faster than you can lick to the center of a lollipop.

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