My grandmother’s house in Richmond had a secret – a tiny room behind the linen closet that none of the family knew about until the house became infested with rats.

The exterminators quickly identified the source of the problem.  A removable panel in the back of the linen closet revealed a small room packed to the rafters with bags of sugar.  At that point, the family’s red-faced housekeeper was forced to admit that she had been secretly stashing the staple in the hidden room for many months.    It was the late 1930s, and the prospect of another World War was looming. Recalling the nationwide sugar shortages of WWI, she was simply trying to ensure that the household had enough sugar on hand to withstand another round of rationing.

Sugar famineIf you’ve ever pounded on a malfunctioning vending machine in a vain effort to get that candy bar you really really REALLY needed, you might understand the panic and frustration that gripped Indianapolis in the fall of 1917 during the great sugar famine.  A confluence of unfortunate circumstances had conspired to cut the supply of sugar to most of the nation. Although the east coast was hit the hardest, only one or two carloads of sugar were arriving in Indianapolis each week, as compared to the 40 or 50 carloads that the city usually needed for baking, manufacturing and home consumption. By November, Taggart Baking Company, Century Biscuit Company and several other large manufacturing concerns were on the verge of closing their doors when some unlikely heroes came to the rescue – the Candy Men of Indianapolis.

Indianapolis was home to seven large candy factories in 1917, as well as a number of smaller confectionaries. Dilling & Company was the largest, with 200 employees, while the J.F. Darmody Company and National Candy Company were tied in second place with 150 employees each. Other large candy  manufacturers included the Indianapolis Candy Company, Nichols Candy, and the Walker-Wysong Candy Company.


Frank Dilling started his candy business in Marion but moved to Indianapolis in 1906 so his daughters could pursue their musical training. The butterscotch vending machine on the left sold at auction in 2009 for $13,500.

In November 1917, Dilling’s and National Candy approached county food administrator Stanley Wyckoff with an offer to loan 100,000 pounds of sugar that the manufacturers had set aside for the upcoming holiday season.  J.F. Darmody soon followed by offering up two carloads of Louisiana clarified sugar that was currently en route to Indianapolis. The 100,000 pounds plus Darmody’s stash was barely enough to sustain Indianapolis for a week. In providing the sugar, the Candy Men made clear that if the loan was not repaid within 10 days, they would be forced to shut down the candy factories, throwing workers on the street and leaving Indianapolis children with the prospect of nothing but coal in their Christmas stockings.

Although that particular crisis was averted, the sugar famine lingered for another two years, culminating in September 1919 in a near-riot at the Piggly-Wiggly in the Pembroke Arcade.  Thousands of women had been waiting in line since daylight to purchase 10-pound bags of sugar that had been made available for home canning.  Although the store’s entire supply of 17,500 pounds was sold out in less than an hour,  the crowd of women continued to surge, hurling insults at Wyckoff and threatening to break out the store windows. Members of the vocal Housewives’ League stormed the mayor’s office,  demanding that Wyckoff alter the sugar distribution plan to provide more of the sweet stuff to home canners and less to the canneries.  Later that day, a frustrated Wyckoff announced plans to “retire” from his unpaid job as state sugar czar.

Candy dayThe Housewives’ League also took aim at the Candy Men, accusing them of using sugar in “unstinted portions” during the famine. Although the candy factories had cut sugar consumption by 20% and made sugar available on loan to other industries during peak shortage times, the Candy Men deserved at least a spoonful of blame for the sugar shortage.  During the war, public service announcements encouraged citizens to follow a few simple rules of self-restraint, which included “Lessen your use of cake” and “Eat no candy between meals.”  The candy factories countered with a campaign aimed at convincing people that candy was a meal.

In 1916, a group of candy manufacturers concocted the idea of a national Candy Day in early October.  While Candy Day was cancelled in most of the country in 1917, the Indianapolis companies kept Candy Day on the calendar, running a large ad in The Indianapolis Star stating that “physicians recommend sugar” and noting that “the chemical value of candy makes it an economical food.”

Dillings marshmallows

A major manufacturer of marshmallows, Dilling’s issued an instructional pamphlet informing housewives that marshmallows could be used as food. As if there were any other use for marshmallows.

After the 1917 celebration, Candy Day in Indianapolis was suspended until 1921, when the Candy Men cooked up a citywide campaign to promote the consumption of chocolate and other sweets.  School children were offered the opportunity to win a 10-pound box of chocolates by writing an essay on “Candy as Food.” The Indiana Pharmaceutical Association issued an endorsement supporting the celebration.

But the primary purpose of the day, according to the Candy Men, was to bring cheer to orphans and disabled veterans.  Mayor Charles Jewett issued a proclamation declaring Saturday, October 8, as Candy Day, noting that the purpose of the day was “to foster the sentiment of remembrance and giving — and for the dissemination of cheerfulness among children, especially the orphans.”  The Indianapolis Candy Company manufactured a 4 1/2 foot stick of peppermint candy weighing 43 pounds that the mayor presented to children at the Indianapolis Orphans’ Home. Dilling & Company made special boxes for the occasion, which volunteers packed with more than 1,000 pounds of donated candy.


Pictured above are boxes for Valentine’s Day chocolates from the Indianapolis Candy Company and Violet Chocolates from Darmody’s. I found both boxes on eBay a few years ago.

The demand for candy in Indianapolis grew over the next year. All seven candy plants were operating at full capacity, churning out 10% to 20% more sweet treats than the previous year.  Bouyed by the success of the 1921 Candy Day, the Indianapolis candy manufacturers decided to expand the celebration into a week-long event “for the purpose of educating the public to the health-giving properties of candy and to emphasize the advantages of candy as food.”  The amount of donated candy set aside for “orphans and other worthy persons” quadrupled from 1,000 to 4,000 pounds.

Mayor Samuel Shank’s wife was appointed head of the distribution committee.  Promptly at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 14, a truck loaded with two tons of candy pulled away from the Shank residence and headed to its first stop at the Indianapolis Orphans’ Home. Subsequent deliveries were made to the Indianapolis Colored Orphans’ Home, the Marion County Children’s Guardian Home, the Lutheran Orphans’ Home, the Juvenile Court Detention Home, the Convent of the Good Shepherd, the Indianapolis Home for Aged Women, the Indiana Institute for the Blind, the Indianapolis Day Nursery Association, the General Protestant Orphans’ Home, the Crawford Orphans’ Home, the children’s ward at City Hospital, the county infirmary, and the Disabled Soldiers of the World War.

In the article touting this photogenic event that was held during the height of the election season and involved children, candy and war veterans, The Indianapolis Star issued a wry reminder that “Candy Day has nothing to do with candidates.  The two are completely separate.”

Candy Men

The executives in the Indianapolis candy companies were commonly referred to as “Candy Men,” although there is absolutely no evidence that they were able to “take a sunrise and sprinkle it with dew.”

Sometime over the years, Candy Day morphed into Sweetest Day, the less-attractive stepsister to Valentine’s Day. The Indianapolis candy factories were shuttered. But the river of sugar kept flowing through the city, as evidenced by the fact that Indiana now has the 8th highest obesity rate in the nation. Clearly the Candy Men succeeded in spreading their sugary message that “Every Day should be Candy Day” and that “Candy is Food.” As if they really  needed to spend money on a campaign to convince us of that.

Craig TC

Pictured above are some candy goodies from David Yount’s collection. The trade cards on the left are from John Craig, an early confectioner whose shop was listed at 20 E. Washington in the 1887 city directory.

10 responses to “Indianapolis Collected: Every Day should be Candy Day”

  1. Beverly Fauvre says:

    Most interesting article about the sugar shortage in Indpls. and the early candy companies which I’d
    not read about before. I grew up in Indianapolis in the forties an fifties. I have such fond memories of
    Craig’s Candy Store located near the Circle though I don’t recall the address. My absolute favorite
    candy were their crystallized Chocolate caramels. The story was that the candy was the result of a
    fortunate mistake — the caramel had had been cooked too long, turning to sugar. Craig’s disappeared
    in the sixties and I’ve often thought of my Chocolate caramels. The closest I’ve found are Bissinger’s
    Molasses Puffs ( located in St. Louis) but they’re still just not the same. Wonder who has the family

    Another candy memory is that of Williamson Candy Co. who made primarily hard candies, like butterscotch squares and soft peppermint drips. The Williamsons, or relatives, were our neighbors and lived at the corner of W. 58th and N. Illinois during the forties and fifties. They had one daughter, Brenda, and how we loved to go to her house on Halloween!!

  2. basil berchekas jr says:

    Got to stay with this blog; reminds me of the 1960s song “Candy Girl”!

  3. Beverly Fauvre says:

    Just thought of what we called Craig’s Chocolate Caramels — “Grain Caramels” — as the caramel centers were like “grainy” sugary caramel. Hard to describe, but sooooo good! I used to get a 1 lb. box from my
    grandparents for Christmas.

    Anyone else remember Craig’s candy? — my Google research shows they were located at 20 W. Washington St. and the company started in about 1875, I think, using their own dairy products.

  4. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    Great reminisces, thanks for sharing!

  5. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    I’ve come across a few of those old Craig’s boxes through the years on ebay (didn’t buy them, though). Would have loved to see/ experience/ taste what it was like back then. I presume we use tons more sugar now?

  6. Norm Morford says:

    And what about the oleo packets that had a small container of dye attached. The buyer could puncture the packet and then knead the color into the oleo to make it “look more like butter.”

  7. John Hollingsworth says:

    I also fondly recall Craig’s grain caramel candy. It was made in both chocolate and vanilla fillings with a distinctive swirl design in the chocolate covering to identify which one you were getting. When Craig’s closed in the early sixties, one of the candy makers must have moved over to the candy department at the Wm. H. Block Co. department store across the street. For a few years grain caramels were available at Blocks but eventually they discontinued carrying that delectable confection, much to my regret. It is hard to believe someone didn’t commit the recipe to writing.

  8. Beverly Fauvre says:

    So glad someone else has fond memories of Craig’s “Grain” Caramels. I’d forgotten the two varieties as I only bought the vanilla ones, as I remember. Yes, it’s sad that the recipe seems to be long gone.

  9. d m shea says:

    RE Craig.s—Sweet memories and wonderful research as always Liz. Do you know the story about another Craig special–their Madame Modjeska caramels? While I remember the melt-in-your-mouth taste vividly, only dimly recall that this creation was named after the famous singer made a local appearance-year unknown. (But Downton Abbey watchers will be able to place it post WW 1 based on the recent episode when Mm. was the featured episode of her appearance at DAbbeyl)

    As late as the 70’s perhaps, the late local Rolls Royce dealer John Schaler moved back to Indpls into a house on E. 56th St.., a mansion just east of Unitarian Church on same side of 56th (not sure if it is still there.) We were invited to his open house after his renovation (Note: Same John is the unsung Meridian St. hero–when it was “going down hill” in 50’s he progressively bought, renovated gloriously ll successive houses on Meridian but his efforts not recorded in M.St. revival history). Well, to close this off, the balcony she sang from was still there because it was said to be the candy store’s Craig’s home. Not sure if true or false but there it is for youl HisIndy experts to pursue.

    Re Norm M ‘s oleo packet….I remember as a 6-7 year old begging to be allowed to “do the oleo” at my thrifty grandmother’s farm home. I would vigorously go wash my hands at the pump outside the kitchen door, come back and don a little apron she made for me and climb up on a home-made vegetable can stool at the sink. The lard-looking white oleo would have softened in a big bowl and I and my sister would battle over who got to “break” t he brownish yellow pellet (think gelatin vitamin tablet). The initial “spurt” of colored liquid would then have to be “kneaded” until the white lard-looking batch turned into a glorious butter-yellow.

    But there was more –even legal ramifications Liz C. would have to research–concerning the debut of fake butter oleo. The powerful dairy industry fought tooth and nail and different states had different degrees of harsh law governing oleo (Wisconsin was toughest but I do not remember details.) But I DO know that growing up in Marion In. every restaurant that served oleo had to display a visible sign advising diners of the fact. (Some let you order real butter at a price.) For some reason, the sign I remember most vividly from the mid-40’s (wartime when oleo was a necessity) into early 50’s–the Lincoln Hotel (at the point at intersection Wash,Ill. KY ave.) had both a fine dining and a quick coffee shop and the latter had a counter and stools–and overhead a long narrow sign advising that they served oleo.)

    And, last, when the worst of the Depression hit, before pensions, 401’s and Social Security, many marginal income and especially seniors, were humiliated when they had to seek and accept “relief”–
    a pre food stamps program in which eligible poor would have to go to a nearby grocery and line up to be given a paper bag containing tinned food visibly marked “Not for Resale at penalty….” etc. plus staple items like bread, oleo. So humiliated was one elderly relative that she walked many blocks to a grocery rather than the one in her own neighborhood so she would not be seen receiving charity! And on returning home she kept the house locked until she could remove the offending labels so no one would see that she was on what passed for welfare. Viva la oleo memories

  10. Richard hEss says:

    I remember several other Craig’s specialties, opera creams, and their Persian nut sundaes made with the darkest, richest chocolate sauce you ever tasted.

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