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?”
Opening image – from candywarehouse.com