From fall through early spring, it's easy to have candy on the brain. Over the past months I've had my share of peanut butter pumpkins, marshmallow santas, chocolate coins and sugary hearts. (And my favorite, the elusive cream egg, has yet to arrive.)
Today our craving for sweets is satisfied by factories all over the world. But up until just a few decades ago, many of my favorite treats would have been produced right here in Brooklyn. For example, the Just Born company, home of those cute marshmallow peeps, has only been located in Pennsylvania since 1932. Just Born's founder, Russian immigrant Sam Born, got his start with a small shop in... you guessed it... Brooklyn.
Brooklyn and the candy making business have had a long relationship. Photographer George Brainerd captured a patriotic "candy man" on a street corner in the 1870s.
You could find candy making under several headings in the Trow Business directories of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Chocolate & Cocoa, Chewing Gum and Confectioners (wholesale). A total of 28 businesses were listed within these categories in the 1898 edition. This number increased to 92 by 1912.
Only one chewing gum company was listed in the 1898 directory: Adams & Sons of 156 Sands Street. Thomas Adams has been called the "father of chewing gum," having gotten into the chewing gum industry when it was just starting out. Mr. Adams' use of chicle caused him to name his product Chiclets. Chiclets were manufactured in Brooklyn until 1903, when his sons moved the business to Newark. Adams built a mansion at 8th Avenue and Carroll Street, and urban legend has it that some of his servants still haunt the place to this day.
Chiclets weren't the only form of gum made in Brooklyn. The women in the image above are hard at work at the Federal Chewing Gum plant in Sunset Park's Bush Terminal. Also manufacturing at Bush Terminal until 1965 was The Topps Company, creators of Bazooka Joe and baseball cards; its corporate offices remained there until 1994.
One legendary staple in Brooklyn's sugary past was Barton's Bonbonniere, better known as Barton's Candy. Barton's was established in 1938 by Viennese immigrant Stephen Klein. During the height of it's production, the 1950s, Barton's had three kosher manufacturing plants in Brooklyn. The main plant was at 80 DeKalb Avenue, and we have a great collection of photographs depicting their daily work courtesy of the Eagle.
(This one reminds me of Lucy and Ethel's brief candy career.)
Barton's was an international distributor and they were particularly known in the Jewish community for being "the" Passover chocolate of choice. The Klein family sold the business sometime after the 1960s. The Barton's name was used by several parent companies, but it came to a sad end in 2009.
Not far from the old Barton's site, at 315 Vanderbilt Avenue, you can find a building labeled "Candy and Confectionery Workers Local 452." This particular location for the local candy making union headquarters opened in April 1947. At that time, the union represented 4,200 workers, many of whom lived and worked in Brooklyn. A few articles from our clipping files prove that not everything was sweet in the candy business. As with most Brooklyn industries (of which there were many!), bargaining disagreements and strikes were common. A sad story from 1948 tells of a robbery at the headquarters - the thieves made it out with $4,350.
As with many of Brooklyn's industries, the competition for more space, cheaper labor, easier shipping and larger markets caused most of Brooklyn's local confectioners to either leave or close shop by the late 20th century. Today, Brooklynites continue the candy tradition, albeit on a smaller scale. Most notable is Mr. Chocolate himself, Jacques Torres, whose "state of the art" chocolate factory has been producing truffles, bars and sinfully good hot chocolate since 2000. But Torres is not alone. I recently had a Maple Pecan Chocolate Bar from Williamsburg's Mast Brothers that put my mass-produced holiday favorites to shame. These smaller businesses may not ever grow into the great Brooklyn candy businesses of the past, but they are a reminder of Brooklyn's heritage in all things chocolatey, sugary and sweet.
Note: This piece's title was inspired by our very own Borough President's office.