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Happy National Chocolate Day!

Workers packaging Baby Ruth nuggets at Curtiss Candy Co.

While Chicago is commonly known as the “Hog Butcher for the World,” it has also been a prolific producer of sweets. An 1857 survey showed forty-six confectioners working in the city, seven of which were large-scale manufacturers with wholesale markets. By the end of the century, Chicago would become the largest producer of candy in the United States, a position it retained into the twenty-first century.

Founded in Chicago in 1916 by Otto Schnering, Curtiss Candy did just under $100,000 in sales during its first year, which is about $2.5 million in 2020. The company grew quickly, and in 1919 it opened a new three-story factory on Briar Place in Lake View that employed 400 men and women. Annual sales passed $1 million by 1921, when the company was turning out huge quantities of its Baby Ruth candy bars; among its other popular bars made were Butterfinger and Polar Bar. In the mid-1930s, Curtiss employed over 300 men and nearly 1,900 women around the city. By the beginning of the 1960s, with $60 million in annual sales, the company ranked among the top ten firms in the US candy industry. Control of the company left the Chicago area in 1964 when Curtiss was purchased by Standard Brands, a large national food conglomerate. By the end of the century, the most popular of the old Curtiss brands were owned by Nestlé, the Swiss food giant.

Learn more about the history of food processing in Chicago in the Encyclopedia of Chicago.

All images above are by Frank A. Sliva at the Curtiss Candy Co., Chicago, December 1951. From left: A worker pours Butterfinger syrup from a vacuum cooker to a cold slab. CHM, ICHi-061611. A worker separates Butterfinger bars after being coated with chocolate. CHM, ICHi-076766. Workers packaging Baby Ruth nuggets. CHM, ICHi-061186.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago

“The Encyclopedia of Chicago is no mere collection of fun facts. It is a work of stunning scholarly achievement.” — Tom McNamee, Chicago Sun-Times

Published by the University of Chicago Press, the Encyclopedia of Chicago is the result of a ten-year collaboration between the Newberry Library and the Chicago History Museum. This project brought together hundreds of historians, journalists, and experts on everything from airlines to Zoroastrians to explore all aspects of the rich world of Chicago and its surrounding metropolitan area.

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