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Candy Capital | Chicago Stories

Candy Capital

Chicago famously has a sweet tooth, and why wouldn’t it? For much of the twentieth century, Chicago reigned supreme as the “Candy Capital of the World.” From Cracker Jack and M&Ms, to Snickers and Lemon Heads, many of the world’s most well-known sweets originated in the city. At its peak, 100 Chicago candy companies, including Wrigley, Mars, and Ferrara produced a third of all candy in the United States and employed more than 25,000 people. But however all-American this world of confection may appear, it was immigrants who came to Chicago in the nineteenth century who helped mold the industry.

A woman stands with the candy display at Isabelle’s Restaurant in 1941

Chicago’s Connection to Confection: 7 Candy Brands with Ties to Chicago

A woman stands with the candy display at Isabelle’s Restaurant in 1941. Image: HB-06736-A, Chicago History Museum, Hedrich-Blessing Collection

By the mid-20th century, Chicago was known as the candy capital of the country. What began as modest operations in the mom-and-pop kitchens of European immigrants eventually grew into a large industry. By 1940, Chicago candymakers produced some 556 million pounds of candy per year. Chicago had all the ingredients for confectionery success. It had a skilled, diverse workforce. It was in the sweet spot, too – conveniently located in the heart of the country. It even had (though this may surprise Chicagoans who have endured many a cold winter) the right climate, with cooler temperatures more ideal for making and shipping things that had a habit of melting before refrigeration was common.

“Chicago becomes this mecca for people that have some candy-making skills, some chocolate-making skills. You know how to make dragées from Italy, nougat from France. You’re skilled in hard candy from England,” Beth Kimmerle, author of Candy: The Sweet History, told Chicago Stories. “What happens is that’s reflected in the candy. I mean, literally, the copper pot becomes the melting pot of candy.”

From the crunchy and the sticky treats to the chewy and the chocolatey ones, the iconic confections that came from Chicago’s candy companies became … Read more

Chocolate truffles

A Recipe for Homemade Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate truffles can easily be made at home. Image: Katherine Duncan / Katherine Anne Confections.

Want to make your own candy at home? Chocolate truffles make for an easy place to start, with a short list of ingredients and no special equipment required. This recipe is by Katherine Duncan, owner of Katherine Anne Confections, located in Chicago’s Logan Square. … Read more

From the WTTW Archives: Behind the Scenes at the Tootsie Roll Factory

In this archival video from Food of Chicago, Geoffrey Baer explores Chicago’s role as the candy capital and visits the Tootsie Roll factory.

Chocolate Pavilion at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago

The Sweet Treats Born at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

Candy history was made at the Chocolate Pavilion at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Image: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The 1893 World’s Fair gave the world a lot of things: the zipper, the dishwasher, Pabst Ribbon beer, and the Ferris wheel. A few sweet treats either made their debut or were inspired by the fair’s White City on Chicago’s South Side. “At the Columbian Exposition, it was like candy went from black and white to color,” Beth Kimmerle, author of Candy: A Sweet History, told Chicago Stories. Explore a few of the beloved snacks with … Read more


Bandleader Guy Lombardo

Recovering a Beloved Chicago Candy and the Story of the Family Business Behind It

Lanzi Candy's Cashew Nut and Rice Crunch was once sold internationally and on American Airlines, all while made out of a small family-owned factory in Chicago. A documentary follows the business's story and a quest to recreate its most popular treat.

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Mary McDowell

How to Make Chocolate Hearts

Instead of buying chocolates (whether for a loved one or for yourself!), why not try making some delectable chocolate hearts studded with cranberries, with a recipe from Chicago's Bittersweet in Lakeview?

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Lead support for Chicago Stories is provided by The Negaunee Foundation.

Major support is provided by the Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, TAWANI Foundation on behalf of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, and the Donna Van Eekeren Foundation.

Funding for Chicago Stories: Candy Capital is provided by ComEd.