Elmhurst Museum tells sweet side of Chicago history
Linda DeViller of Oak Park, checks out the Elmhurst Historical Museum's new exhibit, "Sweet Home Chicago." | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
The History of
America’s Candy Capital’
Elmhurst Historical Museum, 120 East Park Ave., Elmhurst
1-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, through Sept. 30
Call (630) 833-1457 or see elmhursthistory.org
Updated: May 23, 2012 4:01PM
It’s going to be a sweet summer for visitors to the Elmhurst Historical Museum.
The museum’s latest exhibit, “Sweet Home Chicago: The History of America’s Candy Capital,” offers a colorful look at the role Chicago has played in the nation’s candy industry, contributing treats ranging from Wrigley’s gum to Tootsie Rolls and nearly everything in between.
“Chicago was home to some of the biggest names in candy,” said Leslie Goddard, who teamed up with Museum Curator Lance Tawzer to create the collection of memories and memorabilia.
Snickers, Butterfingers, Lemonheads, Cracker Jack, and of course, Fannie May, are a few of the many iconic sweets created in Chicago, which still is home to more than a few candy-making giants. At its peak, the city was responsible for turning out a third of all candy created in the United States.
“Consider some of the legendary names in candy: Brach, Blommer, Wrigley, Mars, Curtiss,” Tawzer said. “They all started right here, and they are fascinating stories of innovation, creativity, and growth during America’s candy-making heyday.”
The displays assembled inside the museum at 120 East Park Ave., Elmhurst, detail the story of how mom-and-pop candy shops grew into huge factories churning out sweets by the millions. The exhibit is a feast of trivia and historical facts, but it’s also stuffed with memories.
“Americans get very nostalgic about their favorite candies,” said Goddard, author of Chicago’s Sweet Candy History, to be published later this summer. In fact, nostalgia was a main ingredient in the creation of many of Chicago’s iconic confections.
Salvatore Ferrara, founder of what would become known as Ferrara Pan, set out to recreate the treats he enjoyed in his native Italy after he moved to Chicago in 1900. He ended up expanding his repertoire beyond candy-coated nuts to include Lemonheads, Jawbreakers, Red Hots, and more. His story is one of those told in the exhibit.
Some visitors to the museum might remember buying their favorite candy bar from a machine like the one just inside the door of the museum’s exhibit. The bright red machine dates back to a time when a candy bar cost just 10 cents.
Cracker Jack, another Chicago original, started including a prize in every package 100 years ago. Some of those toys are on display, offering visitors a look back to their younger days, when finding the prize in the Cracker Jack box was as much a treat as the popcorn and peanuts.
The museum’s second floor lets visitors get their hands on the sweet stuff. In the “Twisted Candy Challenge,” guests can try their candy-wrapping skills.
Candy lovers also can test their candy prowess by trying to identify their favorite confections, sans wrapper, in the “Candy Bar I.D. Challenge.”
“With our summer exhibits, we like to try to explore the lighter side of history with compelling stories to capture the interest of a wide range of patrons,” Tawzer said.
Tawzer and Goddard worked together to create the exhibit, the Elmhurst museum’s first original traveling exhibit. Once its stay in Elmhurst is complete, Tawzer and Goddard hope their work will move on to tell the story of Chicago’s candy legacy at museums throughout the Midwest.