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Candy Canes and Silver Lanes: The Invention of a Holiday Favorite

The holiday season is nearly upon us, and that means it's time to indulge in a favorite sugary wintertime delight – candy canes! Whether they're decorating storefronts, adorning Christmas trees or filling up stockings above the fireplace, candy canes are sure to be a prominent reminder of the month ahead. But did you ever wonder when the candy cane was invented, or how it came to be so familiar in the winter landscape?

The history of candy canes goes back nearly 350 years to the 17th century, when candy-makers across Europe were already producing hard sugar sticks, a popular treat at the time. However, unlike their modern counterparts, these candy cane predecessors were completely straight and all-white in color.

Then, in 1670, the choirmaster of Germany's Cologne Cathedral introduced a new twist to the sweet sugar sticks. He intended to hand the candy out to children to keep them quiet during the church's lengthy Christmas ceremony, and to commemorate the occasion he had the sticks bent at one end to resemble shepherds' crooks. Thus was born the familiar hook-shaped appearance of today's candy canes.

Invention of Candy CanesFollowing the German choirmaster's innovation, bent sugar stick treats became a popular holiday confection throughout Europe. The first documented reference of candy canes in the United States goes back to 1847, when a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard decorated his Christmas tree by hanging the treats from its branches. Friends and family members were delighted by Imgard's idea, and they rushed home to adorn their own Christmas evergreens with candy canes. This tradition quickly spread across the country, making candy canes a staple of Yuletide celebration in the U.S.

However, these plain white canes still lacked the colorful designs seen in today's versions. No one is sure exactly when the customary red stripes were introduced, but it was somewhere right around the turn of the century. According to Webb Garrison's Treasury of Christmas Stories, "Christmas cards produced before 1900 show plain white canes, while striped ones appear on many cards printed early in the 20th century." Additionally, the popular peppermint-flavored variation also emerged around the same time as the striped patterns.

Yet despite these innovations in appearance, candy canes were not as widely available as they are today. Producing the canes was a time-consuming and labor-intensive process – candy-makers had to pull, twist, cut and bend the sticks by hand, without the help of a machine. Furthermore, because of their frail construction and vulnerability to moisture, the canes could not be packaged adequately to withstand long-distance shipping. As a result, production was limited to a local scale.

The man responsible for changing this was Bob McCormack, who began making candy canes as special Christmas treats in the 1920s in Albany, Georgia. For years, Bob dreamed of distributing the confections around the country. Then, around 1950, Bob's brother-in-law Gregory Keller, a Catholic priest, invented a machine to automate the production of candy canes. Almost simultaneously, Bob and his eldest son, Bob Jr., developed a new packaging device that wrapped and sealed the treats in moisture-proof plastic wrappers.

Together, these two innovations led to the widespread distribution of candy canes. Soon Bobs Candies had become the world's largest candy cane producer. Thanks largely to the inventive spirit of the McCormack family, sweet-toothed individuals now have no problem getting their hands on a share of the 1.76 billion candy canes that are currently produced each year.


We at InventHelp® hope you find this story about the invention of a favorite holiday treat as interesting as we do. InventHelp salutes August Imgard, Bob McCormack and all of the other candy cane pioneers whose innovative ideas enhanced holiday merriment around the globe.

"The Invent Help People" also would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our readers a safe and enjoyable holiday season. Whether you're celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or another special occasion, our best wishes go out to you and yours.


Back to December 2005 Newsletter

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