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The Goelitz Family: Candy Corn & Jelly Belly

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The Goelitz Family: Candy Corn & Jelly Belly

The Early Years

Gustav GoelitzShortly after the Civil War, two young brothers came to America from their family home in the Harz Mountain region of Germany. There were thousands like them, part of the huge wave of European immigration that began in the 1830s and would well into the 20th century.

Gustav Goelitz and his younger brother Albert traveled to Illinois to join an uncle who had emigrated in 1834. Within two years, Gustav, 24 and Albert, 21 opened a candy making business in a Belleville, Illinois storefront. Gustav made the candy and handled store operations. Albert sold the candy to the surrounding, towns and villages from a horsedrawn wagon. The business did well, they raised families and opened additional plants. In time, Gustav's sons worked in the business learning the trade.

First  FactoryBut economic upheaval intervened when the Panic of 1893, one of the worst depressions in American history, plagued the country for the next four years. Paper money was double the value of the gold backing it. Widespread unemployment, falling prices and labor unrest affected the Goelitz Brothers Candy Co. as it did thousands of businesses. Gustav and Albert were forced to assign assets to creditors and sell the business. Albert stayed on the road selling candy for another company until his death at the age of 80. Gustav never recovered. He died in 1901, a week short of his 56th birthday.

That was only the beginning. In 1898, Gustav's sons continued the family tradition and established the candy making company we honor and celebrate today. For the following generations of the Goelitz family and their partners and in-laws, the Kelleys, making the highest quality candy is a tradition

The Second Generation: Candy Corn Fame

The FamilyThe two eldest sons of Gustav had worked in their father's candy business, then set out on their own. Adolph opened a Cincinnati based candy company with the help of his friend and neighbor William Kelley. Soon his brothers, Gus Jr. and Herman, would join him there. In 1901 they hired Will Kelley's cousin, Edward Kelley, as a bookkeeper. Ed fell in love with one of the Goelitz sisters, Joanna, and married her, formally joining the Goelitz and Kelley clans into a family partnership. These family members would build the company beyond the wildest dreams of the previous generation.

The turn of the last century was a good time for the candy business. Over a thousand candy manufacturers in the country employed an estimated 27,000 workers. Goelitz Confectionery Co. was one which prospered. By 1912, the company was turning away orders for lack of production capacity.

A factory town along the north shores of Lake Michigan offering rail service and affordable land was selected for a new plant. The move to North Chicago was a good one. When the income tax was introduced in 1913, it forced many mom-and-pop candy makers to keep business. Many failed, but Goelitz was already firmly established. Butter creams, later known as mellocremes, were the primary products of the company. While licorice, chocolates and peppermints were also available, butter creams kept the business growing for the next five decades. The single best seller? Candy Corn.

According to tradition, candy corn was invented in the 1880s. Company records show Goelitz making candy corn by 1900.

They turned it into a runaway success, and became known for the finest candy corn on the market.

Candy Making: Life in the Factory

In the factoryWhat was a candy factory like a century ago? In the early decades of Goelitz Confectionery Company the candy business was mainly seasonal. March through Thanksgiving the number of employees would double to 30 workers in preparation for the big autumn candy season.

The factory was generally hot, particularly through Midwest summers. Air conditioning had not become prevalent and even electric fans were not much in use. In the kitchen, where more heat was generated, the men often removed their white shirts in an attempt to stay cool while they cooked up as many as 50 batches of candy a day.

The typical worker put in six days, ten hours a day. For that effort the average salary in 1900 was $5.22 a week. By 1917 the weekly salary rose to $11.18.

Large kettles were used for cooking sugar, water and corn syrup into slurry. The butter cream recipe required whipping in fondant for smooth texture, and marshmallow for a soft bite. The hot candy was then poured into "runners," hand-held buckets, each one holding 45 pounds.

Men working as "stringers" would walk backward pouring the steaming candy into trays of cornstarch imprinted with kernel-shaped molds. For candy corn, three passes were needed for the orange, white and yellow colors, a strenuous job by any standard.

Finally, customer orders had to be filled and shipped. Originally, wooden buckets, tubs and cartons were used to pack the candy. Labels were affixed with paste the workers made themselves. Wagons delivered the orders to customers in the area, while railroad cars handled the longer distances. Still, shipping candy very long distances was not attempted because of perishability.

Although candy production is now aided by computers and machinery, the essential process and the secret Goelitz Candy Corn recipe remain the same today.

Five Decades: Best of Times, Worst of Times

During World War I anti-German sentiment ran strong in America. It was likely a difficult time for the family, but the company supported the war, and at least one son served in the Navy.

It was also a time of turmoil within the company. Each of the family members had a turn at the helm. Ultimately, Gus Jr. left the business altogether, while Herman went West to open his own company. The Herman Goelitz Candy Co. began making what Herman knew best-candy corn. Since the confectionery industry was regional, his business was not in competition with the rest of the family.

Another 58 years would pass before the family would be reunited into a single candy making company.

The 20s were good years for the two companies, but then the Great Depression spread across the country sweeping up businesses and jobs. In one year alone 878 candy manufacturers went into bankruptcy. Cash in banks was lost, and sales plummeted. Candy corn, which sold for 16 a pound in the 20s, was going for 8 ten years later.

While consumption of candy declined during the Depression, it soared 30% during World War II, even as production was limited by sugar rationing, transportation difficulties, manpower shortages, and price controls. Goelitz was making candy in the face of all obstacles, and selling as much as they could make. One desperate customer even offered trading nylons for a candy shipment. Then, a post-war boom saw demand zoom up another 60%. It had been the worst of times and the best of times.

The Third Generation: From Crisis to Diversification:

As the third generation of the candy making family began to work in the California and Illinois companies, other manufacturers had moved into the candy corn category and began undercutting prices. The limited product line was hurting the businesses.

William Kelley and his California cousin, Herman Rowland, descendants of Gustav Goelitz, were young and energetic. Both knew expansion was the key to the future. It was clear that the time had come to either diversify the product line or get out of the business. Herm had already been advised by one banker to sell the company's assets and walk away, rather than expand. Expansion plans continued anyway.

In 1975, skyrocketing prices for sugar squeezed the candy business as buyers held back orders in hopes of waiting out the crisis. The bottom fell out of the market, and many in the industry went out of business.

Bill shut the North Chicago plant for a couple of months to buy time. In California, Herm had already begun branching out and borrowed heavily to buy sugar to continue to produce.

Through grit, determination and a vision for the future, the cousins each weathered the storm. They began to make more than mellocremes, and found willing buyers. It was in this environment that the biggest change in the history of the family was bout to take place.

Hitting the Big Time: The Jelly Belly Rocket

Jelly BellyA request for a new kind of jelly bean came to Herm Rowland one day in California. David Klein, a driver for a candy distributor, had a childhood dream to create "the Rolls Royce of jelly beans." Since the Goelitz name enjoyed a reputation for quality, David knew Goelitz candy makers could make the vision into a reality.

Eight flavors of this small, intensely flavored jelly bean were crafted in the summer of 1976. Unusual flavors, such as root beer and cream soda had never before been made into a jelly bean. They were called Jelly Belly's jelly beans, the name derived from a rhyme with Leadbelly, the 1920s blues singer. And, they would be sold as individual flavors, a novel change from the usual mixed bag of jelly beans.

Sales grew, then grew some more. Jelly Belly beans were tolling out the door at a faster and faster rate. California needed additional production to meet the sales. Herm turned to Bill Kelley in Illinois, and the two cousins reunited the candy making family into a single company for the first time in five decades.

America learned about the Jelly Belly bean in a big way during the 1980 presidential election.

Soon they were seen in the White House, and the public glamored for more. Round-the-clock shifts worked to meet the demand. Orders from current retail stores were booked two years in advance of being able to ship them.

After the media attention died down, the company went on to post double digit growth for the next two decades. Jelly Belly beans, a seeming fad, had become a solid product with a loyal and enthusiastic following.

The FactoryToday, Jelly Belly jelly beans are known around the world as an uniquely American candy. The company nakes over 150 gourmet candies, building on the tradition established by the ancestors who have gone before. And, the family looks toward a bright future for the next generation of Goelitz candy makers.

Related Link:

Text and pictures were provided by Jelly Belly
Herman Goelitz Inc., 2400 North Watney Way, Fairfield, CA 94533-6741

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