How the Tootsie Roll became America’s favourite sweet

Tootsie Roll, one of America’s most recognisable confectionery brands, was invented 119 years ago. Its creator, Leo Hirshfield, was an Austrian immigrant to New York, who, soon after arriving, opened a sweet shop. It later became Tootsie Roll Industries.

The Tootsie Roll came about not through artistic creation or experiment, but as a solution to a problem. The issue was that chocolate was a better seller than normal hard sweets, but it melted in the sun, making it difficult to store and transport.

Hirshfield set to work with this issue in mind and wanted to create an amalgam of sweets and chocolate. In time he came up with the Tootsie Roll: a chocolate-flavoured sweet that bears similarities to both caramels and ‘taffy’ – a toffee-like confection.

The chocolate sweet was an instant hit. Its cheap price, known as ‘penny candy’, kept it affordable, while being individually wrapped gave it an image of a higher quality upmarket sweet – the first ‘penny candy’ to do this.

In 1905, Tootsie Roll moved production to a five-storey factory to keep up with demand. During these early decades, the company changed its name in attempts at rebranding, but eventually returned to its original trademark name in 1966.

After the initial boom of popularity and financial success, the company’s fortunes took a turn for the worse during the Great Depression of the 1930s. By 1935, the company was in severe financial difficulty and became the target of a takeover.

Joseph Rubin & Sons of Brooklyn, Tootsie’s principle supplier of paper boxes, bought the confectionery maker after it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, by buying out the other shareholders. Bernard D Rubin took control of the company and was eventually able to restore profits.

The company has stayed in the hands of the Rubin’s family ever since, and in January 2015, Ellen Rubin Gordon, became the chairman and CEO. She is Bernard D Rubin’s niece and the fourth Rubin to run the company.

Tootsie Roll Industries currently operates across 75 counties with revenue of over half a billion dollars. It is one of the largest confectionery makers in the world and over 64 million Tootsie Rolls are still made daily.

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