When you sift through your kid’s jack-o’-lantern pail this Halloween, you’re sure to find at least a couple of Dum Dums.
You’ll probably recognize the tiny ball-shaped lollipops from your own childhood. Because in 89 years they’ve hardly changed at all.
“They taste the same as when you had them as a kid, or your parents had them as a kid,” says Kirk Vashaw, whose great-grandfather helped found Spangler Candy Co., the maker of Dum Dums. “We do put in some new flavors and put others on vacation, but the product itself is basically the same as it was for generations.”
Dum Dums have been around since 1924, when the Akron Candy Co. in Bellevue, Ohio, began making them. They got their name from a sales manager who decided they looked like the hand weights sometimes called dumb bells.
“They thought it would be an easy word for little kids to say,” Vashaw says.
The diminutive lollipops roll off the line at 10 million a day – 12 million at Halloween, Vashaw says – in flavors such as cream soda, blue raspberry, cotton candy and the ever-popular “mystery” flavor. Introduced in the 1960s, Vashaw says the mystery flavor isn’t the result of manufacturing mistakes (a little too much butterscotch in that batch?) or an oversupply of some flavorings, but is purposefully plotted and produced. The mystery flavor changes continuously, he says, but that’s about all you’ll get out of him.
“We don’t share all the specifics on exactly how the mystery pop is made because then it wouldn’t be a mystery,” he says.
Dum Dums are a nostalgic candy, the lollipop you might see at the bank or the cash register of your favorite Chinese restaurant or in a minister’s pocket to calm squirming Sunday schoolers. Spangler buys all its ingredients in the United States. Even the trademarked “sachet” wrapper, folded so that it clings to the candy but can be removed easily by little fingers, comes from trees in northern Wisconsin.
Spangler was founded in 1906 when Arthur Spangler bought a baking soda business for $450 at a bankruptcy sale. His brother Ernest was a “candy jobber” – someone who delivered candy to stores in his horse and buggy – and suggested they make candy instead. Along with a third brother, Omar – Vashaw’s great-grandfather – they began making coconut balls and other confections. In addition to Dum Dums, Spangler also makes circus peanuts, those orange, peanut-shaped marshmallows of indeterminate flavor (though Vashaw says they are banana flavored).
“It’s a very niche candy,” Vashaw says. “People either love them or they hate them. There’s no in between.”
Spangler sells 175 million circus peanuts a year, Vashaw says, slightly less than their only competitor, a Wisconsin candy company.
Spangler also is the only U.S. company that makes candy canes, Vashaw says. Which means that this Christmas, for the first time ever, you’ll see – wait for it – peppermint-flavored circus peanuts.
“The circus peanuts do a very good job of delivering flavor,” Vashaw says. “Circus peanut fans really enjoy the peppermint flavor.”
Dear Santa: No need to fill my stocking.