There are a number of candies that just seem like they have always been here. And that’s because their invention far exceeds any of our lifespans. And if you ever wanted to know what the oldest continually-produced candy in America is, look no further than those powdery quarter-shaped wafers, known the world over as Necco.
For starters, Necco candies come in eight assorted flavors: orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice and wintergreen, each with the name NECCO printed on the surface. For the chocolate Necco fan, rolls consisting entirely of chocolate flavored Necco’s are also available. The science geek may be interested to know that, like wintergreen Lifesavers, wintergreen Necco’s (the white ones) also have the ability to emit sparks when chewed or snapped in half in the dark.
So how did it all begin? Well, In 1849, a man by the name of Oliver Chase invented two machines that revolutionized the confection industry: a wafer cutting machine and a sugar pulverizer. He went on to start Necco (short for New England Confectionary Company) and began producing his wafers. Later, in 1866, his brother, Daniel, developed the “lozenge printing machine” and the company began marketing what they called “conversational candies” with messages printed on them. These eventually became what we call “Sweethearts”. This iconic company also brought us a few other treats over the years, notably the Clark Bar, Skybar, and Mary Jane candies. Suffice to say, Necco made its impact on the candy world. In 1980, they even acquired the rights to those little candy buttons that are stuck to strips of white paper. (You know the ones.)
Necco wafers are surprisingly durable and resistant to shock and heat, making them an ideal candy to ship over long distances. In the 1930s, Admiral Robert Byrd took 2.5 tons of the candy to the South Pole for him and his men to help them survive. During WWII, most of the wafers Necco produced were shipped to the troops overseas.
And luckily for the connoisseur of the candy wafer, Necco is still going strong, having just built a new, 810,000 square foot candy factory in Revere, MA. The company has recently altered the wafers slightly by switching to all natural flavors, proving that these wafers continue to evolve, even if it’s at a rather glacial pace. Hey, we’re just happy that we can stick pick up a roll when the mood strikes.
If Necco Wafers were a staple of your sugary diet as a kid, or even if you just found their flavors weird, share your memories with all of us in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this timeless candy.