Tootsie Rolls may not be the most popular candy these days, but the chewy chocolate taffy has quite a story. The Tootsie Roll history begins in the late 19th century and made a mark during two major wars. Next time you’re unwrapping a complimentary tootsie roll or tootsie pop at an office, you’ll have a deeper appreciation of the simple candy.
Leo Hirschfeld left his homeland of Austria and set up a candy shop in New York City in the 1980’s. In 1986, he started selling chewy candies, naming them after his daughter, who was nicknamed “Tootsie.” The official Tootsie Roll history is simple, but candy researchers have unearthed something darker. On the Tootsie Roll website, the timeline jumps from 1896 to 1905, when Tootsie Rolls are made in a larger candy factory, to 1914, where an ad declares that “Stern & Saalberg” sells the candy.
What happened to Mr. Hirschfield? According to the Candy Professor’s research (Samira Kawash, “Tootsie Roll Tragedy: The Real Leo Hirschfeld Story,” candyprofessor.com, January 4th, 2014), it seems that Hirschfield may have merged with Stern & Saalberg to sell his candy. Another possibility is that Hirschfeld worked for Stern & Saalberg all along, and the tale of the Tootsie Roll being a small-shop invention isn’t true. Eventually, that company became The Sweets Company of America, which Hirschfield left in 1920. He tried starting another candy company, but it failed, and just two years later, Hirschfeld committed suicide.
Tootsie Roll in war
The tootsie roll history continues into war. They were part of ration packs and an excellent source of quick energy for soldiers. They also didn’t go bad or melt in hot weather. The candy even saved one pilot’s life after he was shot down over the Sahara. He didn’t have any food, only Tootsie Rolls, and they kept him going.
The name “Tootsie Rolls” also meant mortar shells, and in 1950, a Marine division asked for an airdrop. However, there was confusion, and they ended up with boxes of actual Tootsie Rolls. Instead of being furious, the Marines enjoyed the candy, and rumor has it they even learned that the chewed-up rolls could patch fuel lines in their vehicles. Not every candy is multipurpose like that.
Many people’s experience with Tootsie Rolls comes in the form of Tootsie pops, lollipops with a tootsie-roll center. Where do they fit into the tootsie roll history? The lollipops came out in 1931. The original flavor was chocolate, but others followed, like orange, cherry, grape, raspberry, and more. Now, you can find more exotic pops like pomegranate and banana. In the 1970’s, the iconic “How many licks?” commercial aired, and many wondered what the answer could be. At Purdue University, a 20-student study revealed it took an average of 252 licks to reach the center, while another study at the University of Michigan said 411. On the Tootsie Roll website, they say it depends on factors like the size of your mouth, how many saliva you produce, and so on. “The world may never know,” they conclude.
You may also remember believing that if you found a wrapper with a Native American aiming an arrow at a star, which only happens when the paper is wrapped a certain way, you would be entitled to free pop. While many stores redeemed the wrappers, it was never sanctioned or promoted by the official Tootsie Roll company. No one is quite sure how the rumor got started, but it’s endured for over half a century.
The history of Oreo cookies is even more dramatic than the Tootsie Roll.