Chocolate-covered peanuts, caramel and nougat … the Baby Ruth bar has been an American favorite since Chicago’s Curtiss Candy Co. introduced the confection in 1921.
Otto Young Schnering founded Curtiss in 1916, dubbing his firm with his mother’s more American-sounding maiden name rather than his own German moniker in light of World War I prejudices. Early production began at 3256 N. Clark St.; as the company expanded, it moved to 3222 N. Halsted St. and in January 1919, to a three-story building on Briar Place.
Early products included the Kandy Kake, a chocolate-coated nut pastry. In 1920, possibly due to poor sales, the candymaker reconfigured the confection, adding caramel and reshaping the product into a log-shaped bar with a new name: Baby Ruth.
For decades, Curtiss officially claimed that name honored Ruth Cleveland, daughter of Pres. Grover Cleveland, its first trademark patterned after the lettering on a medallion struck for the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, which pictured the president, his wife and young daughter. That’s what they maintained in court in 1926 when they forced a rival firm’s Ruth’s Home Run Bar, endorsed by ballplayer Herman “Babe” Ruth, off the market.
If true, it formed an odd marketing strategy. Cleveland had been out of office since 1897 and his daughter had died in 1904. Babe Ruth, however, was making sports headlines well before the candy bar’s introduction in 1921.
In recent years, the chocolate bar’s connection to the slugger has been more explicit. In 1995, promoters officially licensed the Babe’s image from his estate for an ad campaign. For the 2006–2008 seasons, marketers touted Baby Ruth as the “official candy bar of major league baseball.” (A company survey showed that candy lovers who eat Baby Ruth bars are 22 percent more likely to be baseball fans than those who eat other sweets.) Current marketing continues the baseball theme.
The brand, along with its sister confection Butterfinger, received heavy promotion from its outset. Schnering advertised heavily, dropped thousands of candy bars with tiny parachutes from airplanes and sent the bars with Admiral Richard Byrd on his 1937 South Pole expedition.
Curtiss also promoted Baby Ruth bars as a baking ingredient and a health food — “rich in dextrose”!
Standard Brands acquired Curtiss in 1963, and sold it in 1981 to Nabisco; in 1990, Nestle bought the brand. Nestle still produces the candy bars at its chocolate and confection plant in Franklin Park.