Officially Necco became a company in 1901 but it really began with the Chase brothers, Oliver, Silas and Daniel in the mid-19th century.
In 1847, Oliver invented the first candy machine known in America and the Necco Wafer candy confection was born. It has had a storied 171 years but was sold in May of 2018 in a bankruptcy auction.
A joke is the candy tastes a few centuries old, but a candy can only live on if people are eating it so there’s that. Case in point: On its Facebook page which is for now still up, a post from 2013 has a woman asking the company to help her out:
“Can’t find in stores, only online. My grandma is about to be 90 soon and has been asking us for Necco’s. Do stores sell them?”
At the beginning of this week, 230 people were still making the candy in Massachusetts. Tuesday they were told it’s over.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. In 1847, Oliver Chase Invented & Patented the First Candy Machine in America & Created Necco Wafers
A pre-Civil War invention, English immigrants Oliver R. and Silas Edwin Chase created Chase & Company two decades before the war began. Oliver invented and patented the first American candy machine in 1847 and the wafer was formulated and began production.
But it was the Sweetheart candy, thicker wafers shaped like hearts, that inspired. Brother Daniel Chase created ‘Conversation Hearts’ in 1866, which would be called Sweethearts, a staple of every Valentines Day in America for more than a century. The original idea was to imprint words on the candy, mostly marriage proposals at first, which makes sense. The brand took off.
By 1901, Necco would be owned by a consortium of New England candy-makers, the New England Confectionery Co., still known colloquially as Necco. Now the fate of the candy wafers is unknown and 230 are unemployed.
2. In May, Necco Went on the Auction Block & the Billionaire Who Bought Twinkies Paid $17 Million for the Mid-19th Century Brand
The New England Confectionery Co. was sold for $17.33 million to one of the companies owned by C. Dean Metropoulos, the billionaire who bought Hostess in a bankruptcy court in 2013. The fate of Twinkies was at the time big news, but the cake that has a long shelf life has been in in stores since.
It was reported by the Boston Globe and others that Tuesday, out of the blue, the Revere, Massachusetts home of the Necco candy-plant was shut down.
According to the Globe, the abrupt closing was a “shock” to the more then 230 employees who thought the New England Confectionery Co. would stay operational until November. The paper reported in a plant cafeteria, Necco’s CEO Michael McGee announced “effective immediately” the company was shuttered, according to a worker who did not share his name. He said employees were read a statement about severance, got a thank you and goodbye.
Some, including Necco itself, tried to save the factory. A GoFundMe was even set up.
3. Necco Wafer Candy Was Supplied to Civil War Union & WW II Soldiers. Its Website, Still Online, Celebrates its 171-Year History
On its website, which may soon be shuttered like the candy factory, its ‘About Us’ page includes a history and timeline that peppered with pride in what it has accomplished over 170 years.
NECCO says its roots were tied to a “pivotal time in American innovation.” In the 1840s, it reads, the decade saw “the invention of the grain elevator the sewing machine, the rotary printing press the safety pin and baseball.” And Necco. Oliver Chase “constructed the lozenge cutter device which proved to be America’s first candy machine. Chase’s invention not only gave birth to the Wafer that would make the company famous and jump started the nation’s entire candy industry.”
During the Civil War, according to Necco, the candy was called “hub wafers” and Union soldiers carried the spherical flat sugar confections.
In 1942, in support of the World War II effort, Necco “turned over portion of its plant for the manufacture of war materials and used its candy facilities to provide rations and another emergency specialties for the armed forces.”
Necco says that in 1945, when the Times Square blackout and curfew were lifted on V-E Day, “following three years of darkness” their sign was one of the few ready to be lit. “More than 250,000 New Yorkers pack Times Square to welcome the return of the lights,” Necco describes. The company resumed regular operation after the war, and it says, sales peaked as many soldiers and civilians “became faithful customers.”
4. Necco Wafer Are Basically Sugar, Corn Syrup, Gelatin, Flavorings & Food Color
Maybe it was because it was among the first candies that could be carried, did not melt, could be shared, and were sweet and caloric that it was not only a popular confection for soldiers, it was a well-known and, as time has testified, perennial favorite for many.
The original Necco Wafers had eight flavors with corresponding colors, all artificial: lemon was yellow, lime was green, orange was orange, clove was purple, cinnamon was white, wintergreen was pink, licorice was black and chocolate was brown.
“I love Necco wafers…. my father loves them…. they bring back so many good childhood memories.. ”:) A commenter on the Necco Facebook page shared.
Necco has seemingly never tried to conceal its recipe or pretend to be something it’s not: the ingredients are sugar, corn syrup, gum, gelatin and artificial flavorings and colors.
5. Necco Wafers Where the Core Candy Brand. Unlike the Wafer, Some Necco’s Other Candies Didn’t Last But Many Did Like Mary Janes & Sweethearts
People of a certain age will remember many of these candies, a few very still in production: Banana Split chews, Candy House Candy Buttons, Mighty Malts Malted Milk Balls, Peach Blossoms, Canada Mints, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mint Julep chews, and Sky Bars. And Mary Janes and Clark bars have been among the time-tested Necco-branded candy.
But it’s the seasonal Sweethearts that are most familiar.Everyone knows what a Sweetheart candy is even if they’ve never had one. Necco says two billion Sweethearts are sold every year. Some of the original sayings still appear on Sweethearts including, “Be True,” “Kiss Me,” and “Be Mine,” but the original saying that was the most popular was “The One I Love,” which was also in production. “Fax me” debited in the early 1990s.
Interestingly, when Necco changed it recipe for its wafers in 2011 to include more natural ingredients, sales declined so they went back to the original formula of sugar products and artificial colors and flavors.