What do Chicken Dinner, Milkshake, and Whiz Bar all have in common? Maybe Snickers, 3 Musketeers, and Butterfinger ring a louder bell? You guessed it — they’re all candy bars!
While the first three are no longer in production, they join a slew of other sweets that live on in memories and the wrappers they left behind — vintage candy bars with rich backgrounds and intriguing stories. So if you’re ready to take a trip through candy-land history, I’ll introduce you to a few of my favorites.
I’m getting hungry just thinking about it …
Before 1912, a typical candy bar consisted only of solid chocolate formed into a mold. That year the Standard Candy Company of Nashville, Tennessee, created a huge game-changer called the Goo Goo Cluster — a combination of caramel, marshmallow nougat, and roasted peanuts coated in milk chocolate. This was the first official candy bar to combine several elements together.
The Goo Goo Cluster was so popular, it’s still available today in its original form, as well as two other varieties — the “Supreme” (which replaces peanuts with roasted pecans) and the “Peanut Butter” (which has a peanut butter patty in place of the marshmallow nougat).
This was a candy bar like no other. It was made up of seven different milk chocolate segments, each filled with a different flavor. Any craving you might have, this bar could surely satisfy. The flavors rotated depending on how readily available they were, and what was hot at the time. And the rotation cycled through everything from brazil nut, cherry, coconut, and mint to caramel, butterscotch, orange, and fudge.
Unfortunately, this gem of a bar was phased out of production in 1979 because of trademark disputes with the 7-Up soda company. Even so, it’s hard to imagine a product with a formula this changeable existing in today’s market.
Hands down, this child of the Great Depression wins the vote for most bizarre candy bar name in history! Tasting nothing like chicken nor resembling the shape of a hen, it was actually a simple chocolate-covered nut roll. The name was inspired by President Herbert Hoover’s election campaign promise of “a chicken in every pot for Sunday dinner.” In that era, a chicken dinner was not the everyday, common meal it is today (because it was more expensive than pork and beef).
So at a time when money was very scarce, this chocolate bar promised a level of satisfaction, even if you couldn’t afford a real chicken dinner. The Chicken Dinner was retired in 1962 when the original producer, Sperry Candy Company, was purchased by Pearson’s Candy Company.
Born in 1917, these molasses caramels studded with peanuts and coated in milk chocolate were originally created as a ration for the United States military during World War I. Their function was to nourish the troops with a high level of protein and energy. In 1921, the candy bar was launched into civilian retail sale, and in 1930 the full-sized bar was transformed into a few smaller-sized pieces packaged together. Today, Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews remain an integral part of the Philadelphia area’s food culture.
Released by the Beich Company in the 1920s, this candy bar grew in popularity as children sang its catchy slogan over and over again: “Whiz, best nickel candy there iz-z.” The success this bar brought to the Beich Company allowed for further innovation on the part of Justin Alikonis, the head food technologist. Out of this project came his invention the “Whizolater,” named after the candy bar. The machine featured no moving parts and used only pressurized air to make marshmallow, nougat, and frappes. (It had the capacity to pump out 1,400 gallons of marshmallow in an hour!) A breakthrough invention, the Whizolater revolutionized candy production in factories across America. And it started with a simple chocolate bar.
A few years before the onset of World War II, Hershey’s Chocolate was commissioned by the U.S. Army to develop an emergency chocolate ration, later named the “D Bar.” Designed as a high-energy food that wouldn’t melt in hot climates, it was also made to taste less than wonderful. Regular candy bars, it was reasoned, would prove too tempting to be reserved for emergencies. And of course, they would never stand up to hot conditions.
So Hershey’s developed a special recipe using a higher percentage of chocolate liquor (the part of chocolate that comes from the cocoa bean). And because this mixture was more like a paste than a regular, flowable melted chocolate, the bars had to be molded by hand. Famous for tasting slightly better than a boiled potato, D Bars were not well loved by the troops. Nonetheless, approximately three billion of them were produced and shipped out for use between 1940 and 1945.
And there you have it — a short list of some of America’s most interesting vintage candy. When we look beyond the wrapper, we find fascinating stories filled with military contracts, crazy names, catchy tunes, and innovative machinery. And we understand a bit more about how these products left their mark on American culture.
One thing’s for sure: flavor trends come and go, but chocolate candy bars are here to stay!
Lauren Deitsch is the Research & Development Specialist / Chocolatier at Lake Champlain Chocolates in Burlington, VT, where she works to develop new chocolate recipes every day. She’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. In addition to a love for all things chocolate, she enjoys connecting with friends, reading, traveling, hiking, running, and cooking.