In 1847, a young pharmacist named Oliver Chase invented a machine that pressed and cut lozenges for medicinal use. Pharmacists in the 1800s frequently mixed drugs into cocktails to hide their bitter taste for adults. Chase wondered how he could make it easier for kids to take their medicine too. He looked at his lozenge-making machine and said, “I know! I’ll make drugs taste like candy!” Thus the NECCO Wafer was born. Along with some questionable business ethics.
Mr. Chase’s lozenge-cutting gizmo was perfect for making candy discs. So he and his brother decided to open a candy factory in Boston, and founded the New England Confectionary Company, or NECCO. Thank God they didn’t live in Southern Utah at the time.
The thin, chalky sugar wafers were an instant hit. Each roll included eight distinct flavors: orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice and wintergreen. You could eat them individually, or mix them together. Because nothing says “tasty treat” like lime-licorice-wintergreen-clove.
One of NECCO Wafers’ selling points was its hardiness. Explorer Admiral Byrd included several tons of NECCO Wafers on his supply list for a two-year stay in Antarctica. If only the Donner Party had thought ahead, too!
During World War II, the government asked NECCO to produce their wafers for soldiers, since the candy didn’t melt or break during transport. Candy with the same properties as carbon steel? Yum!
NECCO Wafers became so popular that Oliver Chase was inducted into the Candy Hall of Fame in 2006, the same year as the dude who invented the stick-inserting machine for lollipops and Peeps. Also, there’s a Candy Hall of Fame.
When I was a kid, NECCO Wafers were a Halloween staple. You’d watch with a resolute smile as a kindly old lady dropped a roll of those pale, chalky tablets into your sack. You knew you wouldn’t eat them first, or second, or thirty-seventh. They’d be the last things you’d eat. Not because you wanted to savor them, but because you knew eating NECCO Wafers was only marginally better than eating toothpaste.
But it didn’t matter. Because like Admiral Byrd and countless WWII soldiers, kids knew they might encounter a trial that required candy courage at any moment. Seemingly endless stretches of doubt and longing, where a chocolate bar or a peanut butter cup were but sweet, sugary memories. And in those dark times, you’d turn to that chalky, unbreakable, unmeltable friend: the NECCO Wafer.
I mean, they’re not as great as candy cigarettes you can smoke “just like Daddy!” But honestly, what is?
How can a candy be sweet and chalky, dry yet sticky, all at once? America, that’s how!
And if you’ve never had a sugary disc of cinnamon-lemon-orange-chocolate-wintergreen, you don’t know what you’re missing. NECCO Wafers taught us a valuable lesson: kids will eat anything packaged as candy.