Once upon a time, Jolly Rancher was a Colorado confectionery company that supplied the locals with fine, hand-dipped chocolates and “rancher-maid” ice cream. As fate would have it, they are barely remembered for those treats. Instead, sales of their flavorful hard candy sticks would far surpass their other wares, and their wildest dreams. Decades later, Jolly Rancher is a household name and a beloved candy for many a former kid.
The Jolly Rancher store, owned and operated by Bill and Dorothy Harmsen, first opened its doors in 1949 in Golden, Colorado. The name stemmed from their desire to have their candy store connote a certain western hospitality. Drawing from the name of one of their favorite hotels, The Jolly Miller, the Harmsen’s settled on the name Jolly Rancher. They sold fine chocolates and ice cream treats from their store, but it was the hard candies that became the surprising hit. So much so that it wasn’t long before they had to move to a bigger location to handle the demand.
Though they’re not as easily found today, the hot seller for the Jolly Rancher Candy Company became the Fire Stix, a fire-y blast of cinnamon and heat blended into sweet, hard taffy perfection. Soon, two other would-be-classic flavors emerged, Watermelon and Green Apple, though it was clear that Fire Stix was the incendiary hit. Following the success of the Stix, Jolly Rancher began producing smaller-sized candies, perfect for when you didn’t have the time to devote to a full-sized stick.
In 1966, the Harmsens sold the Jolly Rancher Candy Company to Beatrice Foods. Some 20 years later, Leaf picked up the Jolly Rancher brand. More recently, in 1996, they were purchased by Hershey, who continues production to this day. With these changes, the candy has evolved and diversified in ways the Harmsen family would barely recognize.
For one thing, their original flavors proved fruitful and multiplied. Cherry, Strawberry and Fruit Punch were added to the original three flavors of “Stix”. The smaller, individually-wrapped candies come in a multitude of additional flavors, like Lime, Grape, Cherry, Orange, Mango, as well as some “twists” like Mountain Berry, Strawberry-Watermelon and Raspberry-Lemonade. Hershey’s has also added a number of new products with the Jolly Rancher name, such as jellybeans and jelly candies, lollipops and fruit chews. They even have sour flavors and most recently, in 2006, they introduced a line of Jolly Rancher sodas, an effervescent version of our favorite Jolly Rancher flavors.
Of course for many, none of these new-fangled varieties can really compare with slowly peeling down the wrapper of a Fire Stix, slowly devouring it down to the very end, nor can they compare to vying with siblings, cousins, friends and/or strangers for the last Watermelon or Green Apple Jolly Rancher in the bowl or bag. Those were worth fighting for.
If you’ve long been a fan of these hard candy morsels, we hope you’ll share your Jolly Rancher memories in our comments section, as we tip our hats to a sweet old friend.