Wherein The Author Sings the Praises of the Baby Ruth

My uncharacteristically astute readership has undoubtedly noticed the lack of selection when walking through the candy aisle at “your favorite store” (as advertisers used to call it.) Products of M&M/Mars (Milky Way, Snickers, M&Ms) are everywhere, as are offerings from some other mega-industrial-confectioners. Really, I am just fine with a Snickers or a Milky Way, but do not anticipate writing about either of them because while they are perfectly acceptable in a pinch, they are far from the best candy bars ever. That title may generate some controversy, but I nominate one contender for the title: The Baby Ruth.

The Baby Ruth was the product of the Curtiss Candy Company, which had been founded in 1916 by – – someone who was not named Curtis. The founder’s name was actually Otto Schnering, but he decided that his mother’s maiden name avoided the anti-German sentiment that was breaking out around the start of WWI. Schnering began with a confection he called the Kandy Kake. In 1920 he refashioned his first product into a candy bar and named it Baby Ruth.

It was clearly versatile – it was a great summer snack . . .

. . . and a great winter snack too!

Alright, some of you may ask – just what is a Baby Ruth and what makes it so great? OK, I’ll tell you – right after I offer my pity for those who have never tried one. Peanuts and caramel, stuck to a chocolate-flavored nougat, all covered with a milk chocolate coating. Mmmm. Next, you might ask how it is different from a Snickers bar.

By Snickers, I presume you mean the bald-face copycat product of M&M Mars that was introduced in 1930, a full decade after the Baby Ruth hit store shelves? The one that was practically ignored by Mars’ advertisers because they considered the Mars Bar and the Milky Way more important? That Snickers bar? My answer is that the BR simply tastes better – it is sweeter, the peanuts are more prominent and the chocolate coating has a nicer flavor. But that’s just me. Perhaps there are some Snickers fans out there who will insist that their Johnnie-come-lately-me-too favorite is superior. That’s OK, we will just give them a nice understanding smile and say something like “how nice for you.” There, is that settled? I agree.

There has been a lot of confusion about that name over the years. Many assumed that it was named for baseball legend Babe Ruth, who was becoming a household name right about the time the candy bar made its debut. But Curtiss’ response was that it was named for the daughter of former U.S. President Grover Cleveland. Which makes almost no sense, as Cleveland had been out of office for nearly twenty-five years when the candy Baby Ruth was born, and Ruth Cleveland had died in 1904. Some argue that the company used the Cleveland story as a way to shift attention from the fact that they had really named the thing after the ballplayer but did not want to pay him for the use of his name. That Curtiss was located a few miles down Addison Street from Wrigley Field and that baseball was hugely popular were, of course, completely irrelevant to the naming decision (or so went the official response.)

Babe Ruth, by the way, bankrolled his own candy operation in 1926, which he called the George H. Ruth Candy Company. It’s main product was the Ruth Home Run Bar (“Babe” Ruth’s Own Candy) and it sold for the same lower-than-typical price as the Baby Ruth – 5 cents. In an interesting change-up, Curtiss sued Ruth for trademark infringement – and won, after a Federal Appeals Court ruling in 1931. And in a uniquely Chicago kind of move, the year after Ruth Ruth (the ballplayer) “called the shot” in a game in Chicago and pointed to where he was going to hit the next home run (which he then did), Curtiss installed a big sign advertising the Baby Ruth atop a building across the street from Wrigley Field, located right about the same spot.

The product got some heavy promotion at its start, including dropping a load of Baby Ruth bars from an airplane. Mr. Schnering thought things through and had the foresight to attach a little parachute to each bar. Something that the fictional Mr. Carlson surely wished he had thought of for his Thanksgiving turkey promotion for the famous WKRP in Cincinnati television episode. And there is an almost endless supply of vintage ads online, proving that Curtiss spared no expense in promoting the product.

It is impossible to discuss the Baby Ruth without noting the famous scene from the movie Caddyshack (1980) in which a Baby Ruth bar floating in a swimming pool is mistaken for – well, something else.

Curtiss, by the way, also brought us the Butterfinger. With these two hits, the failure of such other forgotten products as the Buy Jiminy and the Man O War were mere nuisances. Since 1964 the company has been gobbled up by a series of larger companies, and is now owned by the Italian Ferrero Group, which digested Nestle’s candy business in 2018. It was Nestle who added splashes of blue to the traditional red and white wrapper, and Ferrero that decided to replace the traditional oil-roasted peanuts with a dry-roasted variety. I wish I had known when this was happening, as we could have tried a before/after taste comparison. Oh well.

While the Baby Ruth is not an obscure product of a small company any more, it is at least a relatively minor player among Big Candy, that has become dominated by the more commonly hyped Snickers bar. So, I always consider it a treat to find Baby Ruths on display in the candy aisle (a situation that has improved in the last few years) and it will be at the top of the list if I am in need of a candy bar. As Telly Savalas used to say when he starred as Kojak on television in the 1970’s, “Who loves ya’ Baby?”

Image Credits:

Opening image – from candywarehouse.com

19 thoughts on “Wherein The Author Sings the Praises of the Baby Ruth

  1. While I won’t refuse a Baby Ruth and have had many over the years, for the Curtiss Company, Butterfinger is my sweet spot (in later life, promoted by Bart Simpson no less!). I find in my older age, I need something far less “gnaw-able” and “lighter” than a Baby Ruth, and so am perfectly happy to have the ubiquitous Kit-Kat found at any gas station or check-out aisle at Target, although they really hit a home-run with the dark chocolate Kit-Kat, which seemed to disappear as quickly as it appeared! Sniff! At the risk of causing a candy bar argument, rising to the level of fisticuffs, I have to say recent forays into Baby Ruth’s have seemed to result in a very “waxy” taste and texture in the surface chocolate, not good for me…

    In one of the mysteries of the chocolate bar confection world, when I lived in Indianapolis, candy you favored as a kid had come up in discussion with the staff; to which I mentioned I practically lived on “Chunky” growing up in Chicago. This elicited a “who dat” response, so in a magnanamous gesture on my part, I went out to get Chunky’s for the staff. None to be found anywhere I went, at least all over the northside of Indy. Not a gas station or Target, or grocery store. I couldn’t pay off on this, until I went back to Milwaukee for the holidays, and just got a bunch at my old neighborhood corner gas station, altho seemingly available everywhere including Target. Weird that these would be available at Target in Milwaukee, but not in Indianaplis (at least at that time).

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    • Yes, allowances must be made for mass-marketed chocolate items. I will agree that the BR’s chocolate coating is hardly of artisanal quality, but I find it preferable to the stuff from Mars or Hershey. And we mustn’t forget that the BR was a budget item from its beginning.

      I remember trying a Chunky as a kid, and remember being disappointed. I looked it up and confirmed that it was probably the raisins. I don’t hate raisins, and chocolate covered raisins are something I could consume in great quantities (when I am expecting there to be raisins in the chocolate) but I never tried another Chunky. But you have convinced me that I need to try one now. I see that it is another product of Ferrarra (via Nestle) but must be more of a niche, because I agree that it is really rare to find. Maybe at a Cracker Barrel? They carry all kinds of hard-to-find candy.

      I have given up on finding any kind of specialty/less common candy in any big retailer. Years ago a friend had two kids named Henry and Heath. At halloween, he would make a trip to a candy distributor in downtown Indianapolis and buy quantities of O-Henry bars and Heath bars to give out to trick-or-treaters. The O-Henry was something seldom seen at retail. I just looked it up, and it appears that it was another that made it into the Nestle-Ferrerra pipeline, but has apparently now been discontinued.

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      • Funny you should mention Ferrarra, once known as Ferrarra Pan, with manufacuring at one time, and maybe still, in Forest Park Illinois, directly west of Oak Park, home of Frank Lloyd Wright. I lived in Oak Park in the late 80’s and could attest to the fact that if the Ferrarra Pan factory was making Red Hots, or Lemon Heads, or Boston Baked Beans, you could smell it all over the area! I had to drive that way for work, and it was a delight every morning. There’s probably a whole entry worth doing concerning the “political correctness” changes at Ferrarra Pan, wherein Cherry Chan, with a cartoon of an Asian spoof Charlie Chan character on the box, got remade into Chherry Clan, with smiling cherries on the box. I believe there were others as well…

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      • I just did a search for politically incorrect candy and found another one called Rotsa Ruck with happy Asians on the box. I’ll bet there are a whole lot of those in the past. The good news is that they are in the past.

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  2. Baby Ruth’s are always a nice diversion from the ordinary, but rarely seen as you said. I do prefer these Oldsmobile candy cars to the more ordinary Chevrolet Snickers.

    Another good candy bar that can still be found is a Pay Day. Maybe it’s the Studebaker of candy bars, given it has no chocolate; for me, that is part of its appeal.

    The other day I saw a video on YouTube about the trajectory of RC Cola and how it was once a contender then got swallowed up by ever-more larger conglomerates. The trajectory you outlined with the Baby Ruth is frightfully similar.

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    • Count me as another big fan of PayDay – but with no chocolate, I can kind of rationalize that as part of a healthy meal instead of as candy. 🙂

      I can remember when RC Cola was a kind-of contender, kind of like the American Motors of the soft drink industry. My father used to buy their Diet Rite brand, and at a time when diet pop tasted awful, that one was less bad than most.

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  3. What a delicious topic for a Friday morning!

    The vending machine where I work in Columbus Ohio is frequently stocked with Baby Ruth bars and I often mind myself choosing them over Snickers and Milky Way. Butterfingers are frequently in attendance. I do like them, but don’t enjoy how they stick to my teeth. Truth be told, I’d really rather have a Clark Bar or a Zagnut.

    The candies I’d like to nominate for honorable mention are the Mallow Cup and it’s sibling, the Smoothie. Both are made in the USA by the Boyer Candy Company of Altoona, Pennsylvania. They were almost extinct from store shelves, but I started noticing them in Cracker Barrel a few years ago. More recently, they’re available at Sheetz Gas stations. I even saw them in our neighborhood Speedway, but they seem to have disappeared from there.

    Happy Friday, everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great to hear from you PRNDL. I would love to do a one-on-one comparison between a Butterfinger and a Clark bar – the two have always seemed like 7-Up and Sprite to me – they are probably different but I don’t try either one enough to pick up the differences. Like you, the sticky-teeth thing is a turn-off for me.

      Cracker Barrel is a boon for lovers of hard-to-find candy. I have seen the Mallow Cups, but marshmallow in candy has never been my thing. You remind me of my old hometown favorite – the BUN. I knew it as the Wayne Bun, made by Wayne Candy in Fort Wayne, Indiana. That one still shows up here and there, but has been owned by a succession of ever-larger manufacturers over the years. I knew a girl in high school who had a summer job there – I was always a little jealous. But then I got to work at Seyfert’s Potato Chips, so it all worked out.

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  4. One of my earliest memories was when my Mom took my brother and me to a cafe in the J.L. Hudson Department Store for pie. I ordered Lemon Meringue and my brother ordered Rhubarb. He ended up in tears because he expected a Baby Ruth Bar. Very sad for everyone because no solution existed for what was supposed to be a treat.

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    • I love Baby Ruths and I love rhubarb pie, but I can certainly imagine your poor brother’s shock and dismay when he expected one and got the other. When you explain it, it makes perfect sense, in a kid-speak kind of way.

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  5. There were a lot of fascinating tidbits in here about Baby Ruth bars JP. As I was not allowed to indulge in candy, except on holidays, when I was growing up, I had to find out about Baby Ruth bars in my teens. I remember getting them confused with Snickers, or even Payday (but the latter has mostly nuts and caramel). The third photo down, the ad “Sweetest Story Every Sold!” had me salivating as I read the description of the ingredients!

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      • Ha ha – yes, I am going to Meijer tomorrow, so I think you have given me a good idea. It’s funny because I wasn’t allowed to drink pop, eat candy, except occasionally at holidays, so I don’t really crave those treats. I do have the dark chocolate square a day, but that certainly pales in comparison to a chewy candy bar.

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  6. My go-to was always the 3 Musketeers bar, JP, but the court of public opinion regularly trashes the candy as being too light and airy (and the texture of one that has been sitting on the shelf too long is truly awful). But it speaks to my preference for chocolate bars without nuts so I never gave the Baby Ruth a fair shake. I didn’t go for Milky Way as much, but then they came out with the “midnight” dark version (much later than my childhood) and I was hooked. And Snickers somehow convinced me it was a healthier choice and became my favorite for a few years. These days, I’ve turned into a can’t-go-back chocolate purist, preferring the straight, organic versions made from the best ingredients. I’m no longer tempted by the choices next to check-out, which makes me a little sad because your post was bliss-filled dose of nostalgia. You described a bygone era through a candy bar. Who wouldn’t love to read about that?

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    • The 3 Musketeers may have been the biggest disappointment of my young life. It sounded so good from the commercials but when I bit into one it seemed like all air.

      I am a snob about a few things (like ice cream) but have very low-class tastes for the most part. There are certainly higher quality confections than the BR, but I am fine with the better mass market items.

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