The history of Tootsie Rolls, once America’s favorite candy (and Tootsie Pops, too)

Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie pops candy

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The Tootsie Roll has a sweet legacy that started way back at the end of the 1800s, and continues to this day.

From the early days, the unique chocolaty chewy candy was a huge favorite with kids, in part because they were affordable (initially just a penny apiece), but also because they wouldn’t melt like a typical chocolate bar. 

Of course, there were also plenty of grown-ups who loved the treats, boosted by the fact that they were sent to troops during both WWI and WWII. The candies were touted as an energy-boosting pep food — or, in the parlance of the thirties, “Tootsies are super colossal for zingo!”

Although today you can easily find regular Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops and Tootsie Fruit Chews, if you go far enough back, you can see that the Rolls used to come with nuts, and once upon a time, there were Tootsie caramels and Tootsie fudge.

The company has also given us one of life’s impossible questions: How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

How many licks does it take Tootsie Pop owl

Many experiments have actually been conducted, giving a range of answers from between 131 and 411 licks.

So since there’s no definitive answer, you might as well forget counting licks and just give in to the urge to chew.

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

Here’s the classic vintage TV commercial from the eighties.

YouTube video

Tootsie Rolls stick to my memories (1976)

By Pete Finley – Courier Post (New Jersey) July 21, 1976

I knew there was something else about Frank Sinatra that I liked very much in addition to his voice. To my great and pleasant surprise, I have learned that Sinatra is goofy about Tootsie Rolls.

So am I. I have been a Tootsie Roll lover since my first hours of consciousness. Every penny that came my way was converted into a Tootsie Roll at the corner candy store.

A Tootsie Roll of his own - Jumbo size (1936)
A Tootsie Roll of his own – Jumbo size (1936)

There was a lot of competition for those pennies. Inside the glass case were such goodies as Grade As and bolsters and coconut fudge and Mary Janes, and sometimes my loyalty would be diluted and an ersatz purchase would be transacted, but in the main, the Tootsie Roll ruled supreme.

Tootsie Rolls supplemented my diet. There was always at least one in my pocket, and during those long school days of yesteryear, a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack of Tootsie Rolls perked up my energy and my spirits.

But it wasn’t easy, eating a Tootsie Roll or anything else in the classroom. Moving one’s jaws, whether it be in eating Tootsie Rolls or chewing gum or talking to the kid in the next seat, was a mortal sin.

But only if you got caught. Hooked as I was on Tootsie Rolls, I just couldn’t do without them for the length of a school day, so I developed some skills that I was and still am rather proud of.

Old Tootsie Rolls chocolate candy ad c1920s

The challenge was to unwrap the Tootsie Roll. Eating it was easy, just bury your head in a book and chomp away.

But to unwrap a Tootsie Roll, that was a task. In those days, the Tootsie Roll came with a band around the wrapper, similar to the band that’s found around some cigars. Removing this band created some noise, and the noise of any candy wrapping was well known and forbidden in school.

And that’s where the skill came in. A kid would hold the candy in one hand under his desk, and with the other hand cover his mouth as he went into a fake fit of coughing.

Educated fingers worked the band off, unpeeled the other wrapper and somehow, with the same one hand, broke the roll into bite-sized pieces.

That particular skill required the same dexterity one would need in tying a shoelace with one hand. Try it.

Tootsie Rolls and fudge, caramels and pops (1953)
Tootsie Rolls and fudge, caramels and pops (1953)

The Tootsie Roll addiction followed me into adulthood. The Audubon National Bank, before it merged with others and passed out of existence, used to give Tootsie Rolls to each little kid that came in with a parent or adult.

We used to bank there, and any time there was a reason to visit, I made sure that all of our kids came with me.

As soon as we got outside, I took their Tootsie Rolls, lectured them on the evil consequences of too much candy in their little systems, and had a feast later.

Sometimes I took other kids with us, as well. Once I went in with nine kids, five of them mine.

Before the clerk gave them any candies, I took her aside and told her to give them to me, that their mothers had forbidden them to eat sweets except as a treat before bed. Needless to say, I made out like a bandit on that trip.

Vintage Tootsie Roll candies (c1960s)

Each of our seven kids had a small savings account, one of those 50 cents-a-week things to get them into the habit of saving. I never took all seven accounts in at once. One at a time, was the system I worked out, getting a Tootsie Roll for each absentee depositor.

It’s terrible to be hooked on anything, but it’s easier to bear when one can get his supply for nothing.

Vinatge Tootsie Rolls (1937)

When we were kids, most big league baseball players chewed tobacco. We chewed Tootsie Rolls.

While playing a sandlot game, we had jaws bulging with Tootsie Rolls, spewing long streams of juice in any and every direction, just like our real-life heroes.

Today, you won’t see a 10-year-old Little League pitcher leaning toward the plate, squinting for the sign with a trickle of brown Tootsie Roll juice drooling out of one corner of his overstuffed mouth.

What’s he doing instead? Blowing bubbles, just like the major leaguers.

I’m glad I was raised in the Tootsie Roll era…

Tootsie Roll the life of the party ad (c1950s)

Vintage NUT Tootsie Roll candies from 1919

Vintage NUT Tootsie Roll candies from 1919

Vintage Tootsie Rolls (1943)

Tootsie Rolls - Spied on Junior (1943)

Chocolate Tootsie Roll: America’s favorite candy (1955)

“MY FAMILY LOVES Tootsie Rolls.”


Bring home the treat for everyone in the family. Tootsie Rolls are chocolaty, chewy, delicious-tasting.

Here’s a taste surprise — Tootsie Roll Pop. Two candies in one… fruit-flavored outside, with a Tootsie Roll center.

Tootsie Roll candies are made of the purest, most wholesome and energy-giving ingredients.

MORE: Where did those candy hearts with words on them come from?

Chocolate Tootsie Roll America's favorite candy (1955)

Tootsie Rolls: The most versatile candy under the sun (1969)

Take them along on vacations and keep the kids from fighting in the back seat… Serve them as dessert at backyard cookouts… and they won’t melt in the sun.

Tootsie Rolls - Versatile candy (1969)

Kojak with Tootsie Pops (1970s)

The Kojak TV series star Telly Savalas was regularly seen with Tootsie Pops — and reportedly used them to help him quit smoking.

Telly Savalas as Kojak with Tootsie Pops

After 75 years, they haven’t gone stale (1972)

By Ed De Moch – The Morning News (Dallas, Texas) May 13, 1972

There are only a handful of products on the American business scene that can claim a life of, say, 50 years and still retain their original form.

There are even fewer older than 75 years that can make such a claim.

One is the Tootsie Roll, the first paper-wrapped candy confection, which recently turned 75 and still looks and tastes like it did when it cost a penny years ago.

But there have been some recent changes in the sizes of Tootsie Rolls. Where ingredients years ago were hand-measured and production counted by pieces, computers now put the ingredients together, and production is in millions of pieces a day.

Vintage Tootsie Rolls comic book ad (c1970s)

It was in 1896 that Leo Hirschfield had rolled and wrapped a piece of candy made with a recipe he brought from Europe. At a loss for a name, he called the confection “Tootsie,” a pet name for the girl had left behind in Austria.

His business prospered, and eight years later, Hirschfield merged with an established candy manufacturer.

A few years later, an addition to the building doubled its size, and in 1919, the firm became the Sweets of America, Inc. Three years later, it became listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

The steady increase in business slowed down in the Depression years, but in the late 1930s, there was another dramatic upsurge and the firm expanded again, this time to Hoboken, N. J.

Its president, Bernard D. Rubin, guided it through the new expansion and World War II, then died and was succeeded by a brother, William, who gave up his post in 1962.

Melvin J. Gordon then became board chairman and chief executive officer, and a few years later, the Hoboken and Los Angeles operations were combined in Chicago.

ALSO SEE: Candy Land, the vintage board game that made millions of kids dream of an ice cream & lollipop world

Tootsie Roll owner-CEO Ellen Gordon (1989)
Tootsie Roll owner-President (later CEO) Ellen Gordon in 1989

A World War II munitions plant of one million square feet on Chicago’s Southwest Side became the center of operations.

Earnings in the first six years of the 1960s tripled, but then fell back later in that decade. Charles S. Larmon, who had been in another segment of the foods industry, then joined the firm as executive vice president, and in 1970, the firm’s name was changed to Tootsie Roll Industries. 

Larmon, named president last year, said he expects 1971 sales to top $38 million, some $4 million above 1970. Dividends have been paid every year since the late 1930s, he said.

From a one-man operation, the firm now employs more than 1,100 persons in Chicago, and six warehouses around the country. Its production is computerized.

Scouts selling Tootsie Rolls (1983)
Scouts selling Tootsie Rolls as a troop fundraiser (1983)

One day’s production of Tootsie Rolls is 11 million pieces, and there are 5 million Tootsie Pops produced. These are small pieces of Tootsie Roll covered with hard candy in a variety of flavors on a stick.

Tootsie Roll Industries uses more than 40 million pounds of corn syrup a year in the production of Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie Pops, Tootsie Pop Drops (a variation of the stick kind), and the Tootsie Roll Flavor Rolls, a taffy-like candy in six flavors.

ALSO SEE: Necco Wafers history: How the round, colorful candy became so popular (1920)

The production line is continuous, and the candy is not touched by humans until it packed or bagged.

Tootsie Rolls were sold and passed out to servicemen everywhere in World War II, but later marketing was limited to the United States.

In the 1960s, the company branched out into Europe and Mexico, where it produces the “Tutsi.” Later, the company moved into Canada and the Philippine Islands.

Tootsie Roll Industries, now one of the country’s major candy manufacturers, is actively “looking around for acquisition,” Larmon said, and “not necessarily” in the candy field.

Vintage Tootsie Roll-flavored lip balm (1977)

Now you can have the sweetest lips in the world.

Mmmm-mmm. Chocolaty rich flavor in a great big beautiful lip gloss. It’s the new Tootsie Roll Lip-Smacker by Bonne Bell. And not only is there no other lip gloss that tastes like a Tootsie Roll. There’s just no other lip gloss like a Lip-Smacker.

Tootsie roll Lip Smackers - vintage

Everything I think I see becomes a Tootsie Roll to me TV commercial

YouTube video

NOW SEE THIS: Check out the colorful history of Life Savers candy in this fascinating timeline (plus see a list of 30+ classic flavors)

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. Great article! I never knew Tootsie Roll had the caramels or nut rolls.
    Tootsie Rolls and Pops still taste the same as they did when I was younger.

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