by Diane Larson
Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip once said, “All I really need is love, but a little candy now and then doesn’t hurt.” Indeed. People do like their candy, and almost everyone has their favorite.
The candy industry in the United States is gigantic. In 2016 it was valued at $12.73 billion according to a market research conducted by And Segment Forecasts, 2018 – 2025.
Around certain holiday the store shelves filled with candies that are dedicated to that particular day. For example, Valentine’s Day; early in February, you can spot the small boxes filled with conversation hearts that are scarce the rest of the year. October brings us peanut butter filled taffy for Halloween and in December most candy changes shape from a rectangle to a shape of a Christmas tree of Santa Clause. Then in the spring, we find jelly beans on the shelves and most candy bars look like bunnies or an Easter egg.
When the Easter holiday comes upon us it brings with it an iconic candy. It is one of those foods that divide people by their tastes, joyfully for or mightily against. According to most surveys, it isn’t anywhere near bestselling of Easter candies, yet all know this candy. It is the marshmallow Peeps®.
Marshmallow Peeps®has been around for, well, it’s unclear.
OldTimeCandy.com says that these chicks were initially handmade by the Rodda Candy Company. According to InventHelp.com, “it originally took 27 hours to create one Peep. The little birds were squeezed out of tubes and painstakingly decorated by hand.”
Invent Help says that, “Rodda had a small line of 3-D marshmallow products.” One of which very well could have been the famous chick. According to OldTimeCandy.com, it is believed that Sam Born of the Just Born Company loved, “the way the marshmallow chick looked.” Then in 1953, Just Born Candy Company purchased the Rodda Candy Company.
One year after purchasing the company, Bob Born, Sam’s son “invented the machine to mass-produce the marshmallow chicks,” says OldTimeCandy.com. He then trademarked the candy treats Peeps®.
Currently, it takes only about 6 minutes to create a peep and about 2 million peeps can be made in a day says InventHelp.com.
Not all sources corroborate this information, and the stories surrounding the birth of the Peeps® candy vary. It is worth noting that an article was written by Janice Brown, Not New Hampshire: Roscoe E. Rodda, Inventor of Peeps (1862-1941), has the following disclaimer from the author attached. “Final note and Disclaimer: in March of 2011, I was contacted by a woman who said she was the granddaughter of Roscoe Rodda, and that he never made the marshmallow candy that we know today as “Peeps.” The article was originally written in March of 2008 and updated January 2015.
Rodda, a candy maker like Born, first incorporated in 1908. He owned a building in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Here they produced candy and the building was fronted by a small store for the selling.
Lancaster County was the home of several other confectioners, Hershey for one, which created some interesting battles. Roscoe Rodda was right in the middle of it all. Rodda, “Holding substantial investments in a number of other candy manufacturing companies, his honest but wily efforts to bite off larger chunks of other enterprises were constantly undermined by equally ambitious confectioners envious of his sugary assets used methods legal and otherwise,” says historian Carl Anthony.
The wars between the candy titans of that time equal that of the stories, we in Butte, American know of the copper barons from our early history. “Roscoe seemed intent on finding a way to knock Hershey off his Chocolate Throne,” says Anthony. The candy titans of the time would go to great lengths to not only preserve their empires but to grow and take over was an ambition. “The titans of candy protected their sweet empires with all types of corporate shenanigans, including hostile takeovers, shady bond deals and frivolous copyright infringement lawsuits meant to drain the resources of upstart competitors,” says Anthony.
When Rodda entered the world of candy making he saw the Easter season as an opportunity. He had invested heavily in packaging which made marketing the candy much more attractive. Next step was to publish a catalog, which Rodda did in 1925. Interestingly enough in the catalog, which there is a copy in the Smithsonian, there is not a single mention of a marshmallow chick. But, there is a “Chocolate Covered Mellow Egg.” Historian Anthony says “’mellow’ being a common spelling variation of the word ‘mallow.’”
That is the closest mention to any marshmallow candy from the early days of the Rodda Candy Company.
We know that Sam Born purchased the Rodda Candy Company and we know he saw them somewhere.
According to Anthony, as witnessed and told by Bob Born it took approximately eighty women to do the back-breaking work of turning out even a limited amount of the marshmallow chick at Easter before the invent of the mass-producing machine.
When all is said and done, Peeps did finally get mass-produced and are enjoyed by millions each spring. In a blog on New Hampshire’s History Blog, Janice Brown says, “To some, Peeps are more than a treat. Reportedly during the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Carl Lewis, Olympic medal winner, lived entirely on a diet of Peeps. Lewis said this week he owes all of his success to Peeps.”
Whether you are a fan of the little marshmallow chicks or not, Charles Schultz is probably right, we do all need love, but a wee bit of candy from time to time is a good thing.