THE STORY OF THE BABY RUTH CANDY BAR
In the mid-1910s, Chicago native Otto Young Schnering began producing bakery items, miscellaneous foods and assorted candies for sale locally. In 1916, the 24-year-old rented a 20’x30’ storeroom at 3256 North Clark Street that initially included one stove and a five-gallon kettle. The first product of significance was called the Amerone, a bakery item. Demand however soon shifted his solitary focus to the confection market.
Schnering worked mainly by himself but eventually began employing several assistant helpers. His father, Julius, a well-to-do jeweler, maintained the books. The new enterprise was dubbed the Curtiss Candy Company. Curtiss was Otto’s mother’s maiden name; she was a Vermont native. Due to the anti-German sentiment of the war era, Schnering thought it best not to use his surname. His father had emigrated from Elberfeltd, Germany in 1859 as a child. (Julius became a drummer in a Pennsylvania regiment during the Civil War, mustering out at the age of 13. His partner in the Chicago jewelry business was Otto Young; thus, the name of Julius’ son.)
Nineteen Seventeen sales equaled $92,623.46. As demand grew the firm moved to 3222 North Halstead Street and then to its own building in January 1919, a three story structure located on Briar Place. The Curtiss Company was making headway locally with such products as the Mint Patty, Nougat, Kandy Kake, Orange Ice, Cream Cake, Sweet Mama and Dixie Flyer.
In 1920, Schnering developed a new item which included a peanut filling covered with nougat and chocolate. It was similar to the Kandy Kake which had a pastry center topped with nuts and coated with chocolate. The new product, introduced in 1921, was called Baby Ruth. (There is some indication that the Kandy Kake wasn’t immediately removed from production, possibly indicating that the Baby Ruth was a sister product rather than an outright replacement as normally cited.)
Ever since its introduction, a debate has existed as to the inspiration of the candy bar’s name. To many it seems obvious – the great Babe Ruth, champion home run hitter of the nation’s #1 sport. Despite the obvious, Schnering claimed that it named after Ruth Cleveland.
The candy was introduced with a very similar name to a popular baseball player, George Herman Ruth, Babe Ruth. In fact, more than a few times Ruth had been referred to as “Baby Ruth,” as early as 1915:
Baltimore Sun 11/1/1915
Ruth had been very popular for at least a half decade before the introduction of the Baby Ruth candy bar, including membership on three world championship Boston Red Sox clubs in 1915, 1916 and 1918 and two 20+ victory seasons. In 1919, Ruth moved to the outfield and hit a record 29 home runs. He was then sold to the New York Yankees for an unheard of $100,000+, a sum that rocked the industry. Ruth then topped the home run mark with an astounding 54 in 1920. This made him a highly marketable figure and indeed this was an exploited aspect of the man’s legacy.
Ruth Cleveland, popularly known as Baby Ruth, was born to former U.S. President Grover Cleveland and his wife Frances in October 1891 – the same month as Otto Schnering’s birth. She quickly became a darling of the press and received a great deal of interest by reporters during the 1890s, especially as Grover Cleveland ran for and regained the Executive Mansion (White House), the only man to do so, thirteen months after her birth.
However, accounts of Ruth dropped precipitously by the end of the decade after her father left office. Ruth died at age 12 of diphtheria on January 7, 1904. Her father died in June 1908.
THE CANDY MARKET AND THE CURTISS COMPANY
It’s important to note that a major market for candy sales is children. With Ruth Cleveland dying 17 years before the introduction of the Baby Ruth candy bar, it’s highly unlikely that many people under the age of say 21 would have much recollection or interest in the former president’s daughter. So why introduce a candy bar in her honor – in 1921 too boot? (There was a certain marketing strategy of the era to advertise candy bars for adults – much in the same way energy bars are today.)
It’s no coincidence that the candy bar became identified with baseball’s home run hero, virtually exclusively. In the following article, even the Wall Street Journal saw it as so:
Wall Street Journal, 3/8/1927
Baseball, the Babe and the Baby Ruth rode high in the 1920s. Schnering promoted the bar heavily; company sales topped $1M in 1921 ($1,091,020.65). By 1922, the Baby Ruth, with a 5 cent price tag, was being sold nationwide. By 1926, 5,000,000 bars were produced daily. By then, Curtiss owned the largest candy facility in the world, shipping half a dozen train carloads of the product every day. The company also found a hit with the Butterfinger bar, introduced in 1923.
Wall Street Journal 3/17/1928
Schnering promoted the Baby Ruth well, claiming well before it was true that the item was the favorite of over 50,000,000 Americans. In 1928, Schnering leased a plane and decorated it with the Baby Ruth logo. He made tour stops throughout the country. Prior to landing, 100s of the bars were released, floating to the ground attached to tiny parachutes.
Of course, riding on the coattails of the Yankees’ slugging right fielder – perhaps the most famous man in America – provided free publicity for the chocolate bar.
In January 1964, the Curtiss Company was sold to Standard Brands; by then, its annual sales exceeded $60,000,000. In 1981, Standard Brands was bought by Nabisco and in turn by Nestle in 1990.
RUTH’S CONFECTION COMPANY
Babe Ruth was a highly marketable figure in the 1920s and 1930s, and beyond. Seeing the Baby Ruth reach national distribution by 1922, interests approached Ruth about marketing his own candy line. The Babe Ruth Home Run Confection Corporation was incorporated in March 1922; though production didn’t begin immediately.
In 1926, the now-renamed George H. Ruth Candy Company sought to trademark “Ruth’s Home Run Bar” and “Babe Ruth’s Own Candy.” In February 1930, the Washington D.C. Patent Office rejected the request declaring that the name was confusingly similar to “Baby Ruth,” whose trademark was already registered. The Court of Customs and Patent Appeals upheld the decision in 1931.
In explaining the origins of the name Baby Ruth, a company executive once claimed that:
1) “Our candy bar made its initial appearance in 1921, some years before Babe Ruth…became famous. The similarity of names, therefore is purely coincidental.”
This is a big stretch; Ruth had been famous for some time.
2) A claim that Ruth Cleveland visited the Curtiss Company at one time, thus inspiring the name
She died over a decade before the existence of the company.
BABY RUTH AND MLB
In 2006, Baby Ruth became the official candy bar of Major League Baseball. As a Nestle executive explained, “There’s always been an association [between the candy bar and baseball], however consumers got there.”
BASEBALL HEROS AND CANDY BARS
Cap Anson was the first ballplayer to have a candy bar named after him. Others include Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr., Kirby Puckett and Albert Bell. (Ty Cobb may have as well.)
The Reggie Bar was the most successful of the above. It was introduced by Standard Brands around Opening Day 1978, capitalizing on Jackson’s 1977 World Series heroics. Sales flattened and the bar was removed from production in the early 1980s after the cost of peanuts skyrocketed.
Baltimore Sun, 1904, 1915
Chicago Tribune, 1891, 1931, 1951, 1977-1978, 1981
Lisa Damian Kidder and Bob Baker. Trout Valley, the Hertz Estate and Curtiss Farm. Arcadia Publishing, 1922.
New York Times, 1904, 1922, 1949, 1964-1965, 2006
Press Club of Chicago, Official Reference Book, 1922
Andrew F. Smith. The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford University Press, 2007.
Wall Street Journal, 1927-1928, 1951
Washington Post, 1930