Vintage Ads: Tootsie Rolls

The delicious backstory of the humble Tootsie Roll.

Vintage Tootsie Roll ad

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It could easily be called America’s most durable candy.

Tootsie Rolls have been in production since 1907, after they were invented by Leo Hirschfeld, an Austrian immigrant. He named the candy in honor of his daughter Clara, whom he affectionately called “Tootsie.”

Hirschfeld’s secret recipe made the Tootsie Roll the first chocolate candy that wouldn’t melt in summer like other chocolate bars. It was also the first penny candy to be individually wrapped. Production costs were high, which drove Tootsie Rolls out of the penny candy market, as this ad shows.

Vintage Tootsie Roll ad
(Click to Enlarge)

Sales slumped during the Depression, but new owners in 1935 turned the company around, growing its sales 1,200 percent over the next 12 years.

Tootsie Rolls proved so durable that they were included in G.I. rations during World War II. The Army deemed them a source of “quick energy” that could survive in a soldier’s kit under jungle conditions.

The candy has such a long shelf life that in 1996, Melvin Gordon, former longtime CEO of Tootsie Roll Industries, boasted, “Nothing can happen to a Tootsie Roll. We have some that were made in 1938 that we still eat.”

Even the first batch of Tootsie Roll candy has survived, in a way. Every day’s batch is made with part of the previous day’s batch added in. According to the company, a bit of Leo’s very first Tootsie Roll is, theoretically, in every one of the 64 million they produce each day.

This article is featured in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. That’s a pretty interesting and amazing story of this enduring classic American candy. I wonder if Leo Hirschfeld could have been related to my favorite caricaturist, the famous Al Hirschfeld?


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