The Black Peep Scandal: An Easter Candy Mystery & The Father of the Jellybean

The Black Sheep Peep Scandal of 1912.

The Black Sheep Peep Scandal of 1912. (lee.org)

Fruitcake at Christmas, hot dogs on July Fourth, beer for St. Patrick’s, turkey on Thanksgiving. And, the quintessential American food favorite for Easter?

Hanging with their Peeps.

Hanging with their Peeps.

Surpassing the hard-boiled matter once those decorated eggs are cracked, not to mention asparagus, jellybeans, lamb or ham, and selling at an annual rate of over 5 million is the beloved, almighty and ubiquitous colored-sugar marshmallow Peep.

Peeps and Pop Art: Perfect Marriage.

Peeps and Pop Art: Perfect Marriage.

Peeps have found purpose in the wide Pop Culture beyond its sweet taste and grainy-smooth mouthfeel. For a few years in the late 90s there was a kooky college kid craze of Spring Breakers popping Peeps in microwaves. Annual art contests are now conducted using Peeps.

PeepS'Mores.

PeepS’Mores.

Peeps are used in Ambrosia Salad recipes. They serve as a non-sticky version of the key ingredient to S’Mores. They’re used as topping for dessert pizzas. They’ve been arranged onto long wires to substitute as bouquets of spring flowers.

Peeps Warhol Marilyn Monroe.

Peeps Warhol Marilyn.

There were experiments conducted to see how long it would take before a box of opened Peeps would completely harden into a brick – many of which failed due to weakened resistance of those who let their need for a sugar rush get the best of them.

They’re used on wedding cakes and as a medium for sarcastic, allegorical tableaux. Any lingering doubt about the Pop Power of Peeps is, in fact, laid to rest this Easter season by the release just six days ago of an official portrait of the Lord Mayor of Lost Angeles, master of mid-century modernism himself Charles Phoenix, who posed with his visionary manifestation Astro Easter Tree, populated by a plentiful popourri of Peeps on am aluminum-wrapped styrofoam trunk.

This year, Peeps were pronounced part of Pop Culture officialdom by Lost Angeles Lord Mayor Charles Phoenix.

This year, Peeps were pronounced part of Pop Culture officialdom by Lost Angeles Lord Mayor Charles Phoenix.

All this Easterly irreverence is just fine by the company that makes them.

Old-school Peeps had wings.

Old-school Peeps had wings.

In fact, ever since 1995, it’s been the manufacturer of Peeps itself, the Just Born Company of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which has been pushing the mushy old birds into the future, literally clipping off their former back wings and giving them full flight into the mouths and imaginations of Americans.

That was the year Peeps began rising to reach critical mass, the very first season when purple Peeps were introduced to the old-school line of pink, yellow and white ones.

21st Century Peeps of colors across a wide palette.

21st Century Peeps of colors across a wide palette.

Three years later, the company conducted a deft public relations contest, asking Peep-peoples around the globe to vote on the next color they wanted to eat: in 1998, the blue Peeps joined the pack.

Nostalgic Peepers fondly recall the simpler, earlier incarnations, and often point out that for many a long decade one could engorge at even the Winter Holiday Season upon what was technically Peeps-material, the yellow chick transmorgraphied into Santa Claus form.

Still, in an age when any kid can watch a Charlie Brown Christmas on any day of the year at any hour on an Android phone, another small chink in the overall destruction of disciplines such as patience and anticipation, that same sense of wait-for-it-once-a-year is now being practically upheld in the mass culture by Easter Peeps alone. Who cares if you can get a marshmallow Santa a full four months before Easter or how it tastes exactly the same – a Santa is not a Peep. Those neon candy baby fowl can only begin lo brighten the aisles at Drug Fair once the chocolate mint shamrocks are in the half-price bin but before the striped summer umbrellas appear. Peeps come but once a year.

All types of Peep innovations continued on into the new century, including the appearance of them also in green and orange and flavored in strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and mint. The 21st century Peep, however, is basically the same: what has changed its how pervasive the Peep image has become.  In just the last year, for example, the first of three Peeps Stores have opened in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Peeps-mobile parked outside the first Peeps Store.

Peeps-mobile parked outside the first Peeps Store.

The Pope-mobile seems to have nothing over the new Peep-Mobile.

And for those inclined to dress like it was Halloween at Easter, there’s even now an official Peeps costume.

The result is that over 1 billion Peeps are freshly-born annually.

Peeper and friend in Peeps costume.

Peeper and friend in Peeps costume.

The considerable effort to make us a Peeps Nation has been brilliantly shepherded by Ross Born, grandson of the original owner of the candy company.

The pinnacle of Peeps public relations came a decade ago when the company marked its 50th Anniversary in 2003.

In reaching the half-century benchmark, Peeps became to chirp a bit louder about its longevity, and the effort began to organize and disseminate the story of just how we came to love the sweet little things for public consumption.

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images-1images-1Mid-Century Modern Peeps,

in the Time of Technicolor

The first part of the Peeps tale begins in a Technicolor Time, the the brightly-hued marshmallow birds landing right on schedule for the Mid-Century Modern Era.

Sam Born (Candy Hall of Fame)

Sam Born (Candy Hall of Fame)

In that uniquely American tradition of cross-cultural contributions, Samuel Born, the man who popularized the signature Easter treat was an Eastern European Jewish immigrant (as was the composer of the hit song Easter Parade, Irving Berlin). Born was born on September 10, 1891 and educated at the rabbinical school in Berdichev, Ukraine but relocated with his family to France where he went to work in a candy store they owned.

Sam Born and his two brothers-in-law with whom he founded the Just Born Candy Company.

Sam Born and his two brothers-in-law with whom he founded the Just Born Candy Company. (Candy Hall of Fame)

After immigrating to the United States in 1910, he made a huge splash in the world of sweets by inventing a machine that could rapidly insert paper sticks into the hard candies that became known as the lollipop. It earned him the key to the city of San Francisco.

By 1916, he was able to open several candy stores in New York but, eager to unleash his creativity and conjure up his own concoctions,  he formed a candy company in 1923 which both immortalized his name and suggested the freshness of the product. He called it the Just Born Company.

In 1932, he and his brothers-in-law, fellow candy-makers Irving and Jack Shaffer bought a Bethlehem Pennsylvania factory and hired laid-off steel workers in town to come toil in his new land of sugar.

Mike & Ike, one of several iconic candies made by the Just Born Company.

Mike & Ike, one of several iconic candies made by the Just Born Company.

Acquiring other candy companies and their product lines as well as inventing entirely new ones, Just Born was soon home to such iconic mid-century sweets as Hot Tamales, Mike & Ike and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews.

By the time Sam Born died in 1959, his son Bob was already heading the company, having brought his personal taste for marshmallow into the mix.

In an interview several years ago the now-retired Bob Born admitted that the first efforts by the New Born Company to mass produce marshmallow Peeps had the bits of blob emerging on conveyer belts looking less like chicks and more like seals.

Peep production.

Peep production.

Trained as an engineer, but the company’s second Easter season in 1953, he had succeeded in standardizing the form and size of the candy by mechanizing the assembly-line production of the product which he trademarked as “Peeps.:

Within a decade, the company foreswore its chocolate-making roots to wisely focus on the busy marshmallow season of early spring, introducing other shapes as well, like rabbits and eggs.

With three generations of warm and accessible family members running this privately-held and happy business of candy (Shaffer cousins continue on into a third generation of  joint partnership as well) and maintaining its tenets such as fairness, community commitment, employee trust and support for them, it seems they see everyday as Easter. The company is also extraordinarily open to the media, even permitting cameras into the factory to see how Peeps are born.

A 1978 circular for candy stores carrying the Easter treats.

A 1978 circular for candy stores showing Peeps boxes with the Rodda name,

Decades before the Born family infused their upbeat sensibilities into what is the admittedly optimistic nature of a product like Marshmallow Peeps, however, there was a darker shadow which seemed to circle over  the earlier generation of marshmallow birds, a shocking scandal.

Well into the 1970s, more than twenty years after the Just Born Company first bought what was a long-established candy company located in Lancaster, not far from their own Bethlehem plant, they continued to  package their Peeps in boxes which bore the of that now-absorbed company, a name behind which the full tale would unfold: Rodda.

Any attempt to decode the genuine yet mysterious beginnings of the Peep must begin with a look at the drive and determination of the man whose name graced the old boxes and whose factory had been producing marshmallow somethings for nearly a half-century before it was bought out by Sam Born in 1953.

In the process of searching out the primal origin of what is now the most beloved Easter candy, one stumbles into an ancient trove of candy association circulars, court battle abstracts and terrifying federal edicts.

In aggregate, this unexpected documentation proves that the candy manufacturer who may well have had a dark non-chocolate motive to calculatingly shroud the true identity of the earliest known manifestation of the being we now know as the Peep – and perhaps even obliterate the true nature of his relationship to it –  is the very embodiment of holiday paradox.

This very same man, of whom a verifiably authentic photograph remains elusive even on the all-knowing, almighty Internet, was once the kiddies hero of a hundred Easter mornings before the very sweet they hailed him for fell in disfavor to – yes, the Peep.

That’s right, the one and only mallow-making Roscoe E. Rodda is none other than the Father of the Easter Jelly Bean!

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from-themfrom-themOld-School Wing-tipped Peeps,

in the Black-and-White Era

The tale unwraps back in another time, beginning in the black-and-white world of horse and bunny a long century ago.

Easter marshmallow candy in shapes besides Peeps and packaged not with the Just Born but Rodda name.

Easter marshmallow candy in the shape of bunnies and eggs and chicks, packaged with the Rodda name but the Just Born trademark name of “Peeps.”

Roscoe E. Rodda was born on June 1862 in Lake Superior, Michigan. He was the son of a copper miner from Cornwall, England. Established at a young age in the candy-making business in Ohio, he married in 1886, fathering two daughters and three sons. Four years later he opened a candy store in Cincinnati. The details of his early life were assiduously chronicled in 2008 by writer Janice Brown in her New Hampshire history website.

Roscoe and wife Luella moved early in the new century to the East Coast, living for a time in Baltimore, but he made his mark after settling in what was quickly becoming the national capital of snack food like pretzels and all varieties of candy, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He incorporated his Rodda Candy Company in 1908.

In 1910, the same year that Sam Born immigrated to the U.S., Roscoe Rodda began mass-manufacturing candy.

While he did open a small store which fronted the building where the sweets were being made, from the beginning he was thinking big, with the intention of making candy not just for small, local sales but for widespread national distribution.

Milton Hershey.

Milton Hershey.

It was no coincidence that the first known address of the R.E. Rodda Candy Company in Lancaster was 347 Church Street. That address was already sacred ground in Candy Land for it was here that none other than the legendary Milton Hershey had established his Lancaster Caramel Company headquarters, having bought the building on November 10, 1891 from his dear old Aunt Mattie.

Lancaster's Church Street, once the sweetest-scented street in America and perhaps the birthplace of Peeps.

Lancaster’s Church Street, once the sweetest-scented street in America and perhaps the birthplace of Peeps.

By then, Hershey was already the undisputed Candy Emperor, rapidly expanding his kingdom by buying up  adjoining properties on Church Street and those extending back to the road behind it. Before the century turned, Hershey’s principality extended over 300 feet along what was likely the sweetest-smelling avenue in America and Rodda was getting a good daily whiff of it.

Caramels: overdone.

Caramels: overdone.

Hershey didn’t stop at chocolate-covered caramels. The demand for his candy had spiked so rapidly that he soon purchased a factory to exclusively make caramel in a nearby town, outside of Lancaster, called Mount Joy.

Hershey, however, was a sugar visionary, seeing before any of the pack of competing county candy-makers that caramels were on their way out and chocolate the future. And so Hershey’s chocolate became his sole driving focus. Everyone knows how that story ended.

Roscoe, however, had well-timed his arrival in Candy Land.

A purported photo of Roscoe Rodda; images of him are impossible to find and verify.

An alleged photo of Roscoe E. Rodda; images of him are impossible to find, let alone verify.

The Teens marked the dawn of a golden age for mass-produced and packaged sweets. Judging by the line of products he carried through the late 1920s as reported  in the trade publications of national confectionary and candy manufacturing associations, Roscoe seemed intent on finding a way to knock Hershey off his Chocolate Throne.

With as much ferocity as the oil and railroad robber barons, the titans of candy protected their sweet empires with all types of corporate shenanigans, including hostile takeovers, shady bond deals and frivolous copyright infringement lawsuits meant to drain the resources of upstart competitors.

An American Caramel Company stock certificate; the company was a sweet battleground for the kings of candy,

An American Caramel Company stock certificate; the company was a sweet battleground for the kings of candy.

Rodda was rising by means which some legal documents suggest were rather unsweetened.

Holding substantial investments in a number of other candy manufacturing companies, his honest but wily efforts to bite off larger chunks of other enterprises were constantly undermined by equally ambitious confectioners envious of his sugary assets who used methods legal and otherwise. Roscoe co-owned the American Caramel Company in nearby York, Pennsylvania with partner Daniel Lafean, who served as its president. He had also acquired control of Headley Chocolate Company of Baltimore by purchasing over $150,000 worth of stock, thus coming to own more of the enterprise than was held by its founder William C. Bidlack and operating it jointly with the American Caramel Company.

A Rodda bond.

A Rodda bond.

Perhaps Rodda’s most notable Candy War battle was brought to court by his estranged partner in 1916, with charges and counter-charges of fraud, collusion, breach of contract, and “secret and unlawful profits.” Lafean had sneakily tried to seize the controlling interest of the American Caramel Company by buying up a majority of Rodda Candy Company stock.

Waiting in the wings to pay big money for the stock from Lafean was none other than William C. Bidlack, still sore at Rodda for acquiring control of his Headley Chocolate Company. He failed, but Roscoe couldn’t rid Lafean from his house of sweets. The court ruled in favor of Lafean, deciding his contract with Roscoe still entitled him to his previous salary. The Caramel Company appealed but in 1921 the original ruling was upheld.

Chocolate battleship, eaten before it sunk.

Chocolate battleship, eaten before it sunk.

Still, not even the prospect of a world war had daunted Mr. Rodda.

While his case against Lafean was pending,  according to research by the website candyprofessor.com, the Rodda Company quickly introduced a line of novelty chocolates in the shape of six different types of  submarines, five varieties of torpedo-boat destroyers and four kinds of battleships.

Milton's sweetness earned him a whole town.

Milton’s sweetness earned him a whole town.

As it turns out, World War I devastated the domestic market for chocolates, vast shiploads of it in candy-bar form being requisitioned by the federal government for enjoyment of U.S. servicemen fighting in Europe.

Undaunted, Rodda roared into the Twenties with an ambition he had already initiated. By then, Milton Hershey’s chocolate company had been so hailed for so long as the leader in chocolate that an entire Pennsylvania town was named after him.

Almighty Hershey, however, was known as the general go-to house of chocolate. Rodda would forge a specialty market in chocolate that wax-mustachioed Milt had given scant thought.

Not long after entering the candy world, Roscoe had sized up the Easter season and saw opportunity. By 1922, he was heavily investing on packaging which made clear the territory he cornered as his own, a trade rag noting that, “To market candy in a more attractive Easter packing, Robert Gair Co., Inc., New York, designed and manufactured two similar appearing cartons for products of the R. E. Rodda Candy Co., of Lancaster, Pa.”

Not surprisingly those products took the form of Bunnies and Chicks.

The Teutonic goddess Estera,

The Teutonic goddess Estera.

A Victorian Easter card with the two animal symbols of the holiday.

A Victorian Easter card with the two animal symbols of the holiday.

The influence of German tradition on American Pop Culture is often credited as the reason for why chocolate took the form of a rabbits and eggs at Easter.

In the ancient Teutonic pagan faith there was, in fact, a goddess who represented morning and birth and magically transformed animals into species other than their own.

Her name was Eastre.

The wild hare version of the rabbit was appropriated into Christian faith from this pagan pantheon of animal symbols as was the simple round, white egg which had been used in fertility rituals.

In regions like Pennsylvania,  succeeding waves of German immigrants who heavily settled there continued their old-world Easter custom of exchanging baskets full of these eggs as a symbol of the day, along with non-edible figurines of the wild hare.

With his operations based in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country (a name given not to descendants of immigrants from Holland but from the German provinces), it hadn’t taken Rodda long to adapt the German Easter custom to his product line.

Rodda's Easter Candy catalog cover, 1925.

Rodda’s Easter Candy catalog cover, 1925.

Along with the decorated egg and Holy Corss, the first evidence of a peep form from the Rodda catalog was, alas, chocolate

Along with the decorated egg and Holy Cross, the first evidence of a peep form from the Rodda catalog was, alas, chocolate. Yet the egg at lower left contained marshmallow.

By the time he published his 1925 trade catalog entitled Chocolate Covered Cocoanut Cream Easter Eggs and Easter Specialties, almost all of Rodda’s featured items involved chocolate in variously playful incarnations, including the ubiquitous Easter Bunny and the less-appealing Easter Elephant, as well as other traditional Easter symbols like eggs and the Holy Cross.

In the catalog (a copy of which is preserved in the Smithsonian’s American History library), however, there is not one mention of Rodda’s marshmallow chicks.

Yet there is one small peep about marshmallow

The clue is in the catalog, an inclusion of what was called a “Chocolate Covered Mellow Egg” (the word “mellow” being a common spelling variation of the word “mallow,” as in marshmallow).

Marshmallow root. (pastryscoop.com)

Marshmallow root. (pastryscoop.com)

A honey-flavored candy in existence since the days of Ancient Egypt intended to sooth sore throats and reduce coughing, marshmallow was originally thickened with juice extracted from marsh plant roots which grew at the lapping edges of salt marshes and lakes.

By the 1850s, the medicinal intent took a sweeter turn, the marsh root juice being mixed with whipped egg whites and sugar, forming a mushy yet firm type of meringue when air-dried.

Another page of the Rodda 1925 catalog with Chocolate Bunnies in action.

Another page of the Rodda 1925 catalog with Chocolate Bunnies in action.

By the turn of the century, the marsh root juice was dumped altogether, with gelatin and gum arabic providing the same texture.

It continued to be made by hand until moulds were created to mass-produce what was now a candy growing in popularity. For some time, however, the challenge was to give the gelatinous mixture the right mix of emulsifers to hold it firm without sacrificing taste.

Precisely how the very first Peeps came into being, however, remains a persistent mystery but it manifested at some point well before the Just Born Company’s 1953 purchase of the Rodda Company.

This is confirmed by Bob Born, who can still recall witnessing the arduous effort of Rodda candy-workers hand-making the marshmallow chicks and the great visual appeal to him of this particular item in the old company’s candy line.

The Curtiss Candy Company's marshmallow production. (pastryscoop.com)

The Curtiss Candy Company’s marshmallow production. (pastryscoop.com)

To turn out a limited amount of marshmallow chicks every Easter season, some eighty women, apparently most of them being German immigrants, undertook a back-breaking process.

It required them to spoon small batches of freshly-made marshmallow batter, which included whipped egg whites, into regular pastry tubes and then squirt out through the tiny fluted steel tip a uniform version of a small baby chicken, as if they were all freshly hatched from eggs.

In an era when the potential for salmonella poisoning from uncooked eggs was not yet a worry, the marshmallow chicks were not baked but rather air-dried. Start to finish, the process of turning out trays of Rodda marshmallow chicks entailed some 27 hours.

Anecdotal reports claim that many of the women developed muscular forearms from the annual ritual of having to repetitively hold the pastry tubes steadily while squeezing them firmly.

Marshmallow made by hand through pastry tube. (staffcanteen.com)

Marshmallow made by hand through pastry tube. (staffcanteen.com)

What seems curious about the Rodda candy-makers laborious process is the fact that in 1948 marshmallow-maker Alex Doumak has devised the more efficient “extrusion process” which allowed for the batter to be piped through long, narrow tubes.

For a company that had always striven for the competitive edge in candy, the Rodda factory seemed suspiciously reluctant about employing the new method and thus producing large quantities of the mushy baby birds for widespread distribution and public sale.

Instead, it appears that the Rodda forerunner of the modern Peep was only produced in a limited quantity once a year and sold directly through its storefront to loyal customers.

Why would the Rodda Candy Company tout its harvest of Easter sweets as the finest and most diverse, yet display what seems like a purposeful ambivilence about its marshmallow chicks?

Marshing the mallow. (joepastry.com)

Marshing the mallow. (joepastry.com)

In a 2012 reader comment written in response to an otherwise routine article on Peeps, one of Roscoe Rodda’s two surviving grandchildren empathically affirmed, “I want everyone to know my grandfather never made a Peep.” In another reader comment made within days of the other, she further clarified that, “Granddaddy died 1942, way before Peeps were invented or created, he had retired long before that as he was almost 81 years old at his death and died in our front bedroom in Falls Church, Virginia.” 

The granddaughter recalled her excitement when she first saw a box of Peeps for commercial sale, in a box marked with the family name. Her father Emmons, one of Rodda’s three sons who had also worked in the candy factory “fumed” in reaction, adding that, “My father never made that quality of candy.”

The power of family lore is hard to challenge. Born in 1891, Emmons Alger Rodda was at least 63 years old at the time that the first of the First Born Company Peeps would have first been sold boxed and in mass-produced numbers to the general public, in 1954. Records show that he had two daughters, one of whom had been born by 1917 and another born at some point after his second marriage in 1941.

On the premise that the daughter who was told her grandfather had never made Peeps was the younger of the two, Emmons would have made his claim to her sometime between 1954 and his death in 1977 at age 86 years old. She also pointed out that Emmons “worked in the factory and also was a candy maker before going to work for the gov’t.”

Mention by his daughter of seeing the family name on a box of marshmallow Peeps made E.A. Rodda "fume."

Mention by his daughter of seeing the family name on a box of marshmallow Peeps made E.A. Rodda “fume.”

It is true that he was a resident of Lancaster, and employed as “a superintendent at the R.E. Rodda Candy Company,” but that was according to his 1917 World War I draft card. He then moved to Virginia.

His absence from the candy company after 1919, however, is a significant period of time and there was more than a good chance that his memory of his father not doing any marshmallow-making was faulty, due to his absence durng the intervening thirty-five years until the first of the Rodda-marked Peeps appeared on the general market.

In one of her comments, Rodda’s granddaughter also provided another clue, stating that by the time the Just Born Company bought it her grandfather had already “sold the company to the American Caramel Company, along with the use of his name.”

Indeed, by 1930 the Rodda Candy Company was listed as a subsidiary of the American Caramel Company and shared the same address, still on Church Street but Rodda continued to hold a controlling interest of the caramel-making wing of the candy conglomerate which, under  1922 reorganization, was then separated its joint operations. It was a matter of confusing and complication business semantics, easy to confuse.

Not insignificant, however, is the fact that Emmons Rodda was employed at the company in the years from 1911 to 1915.

That’s when the Black Sheep Peeps escaped from the factory, provoking a scandal that no company catering to kiddies would welcome, let alone want to be remembered as part of its otherwise sweet history.

At the candy factor, it was a dark period which had nothing to do with bittersweet chocolate. The most dreaded of federal violations was leveled at the Rodda Company: “Adulteration of Candy.”

The first part of the federal “Black Sheep Peep Scandal of 1911.”

In time for the 1911 spring season, the Rodda Company sent a shipment of “Easter Joy” candy on March 8 to the state of Minnesota for public sale. All was smooth, until the boxes were opened and checked by a Food and Drug Administration inspector. The Candy Man was in trouble.

To quote from the federal register report on U.S. v. Rodda Candy Company:

On April 10, 1912, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, acting upon a report by the Secretary of Agriculture, filed in the District Court of the United States for said district an information against the R. E. Rodda Candy Co., a corporation, Lancaster, Pa., alleging shipment by said company, in violation of the Food and Drugs Act, on March 8, 1911, from the State of Pennsylvania into the State of Minnesota, of a quantity of confectionary, styled and designated as “Easter Joy,” which was adulterated.The product was labeled: “Originality. Workmanship. Purity. Trade Mark. Rodda Candy. Easter Joy Guaranteed under the Pure Food and Drugs Act of June 30, 1906. Serial No. 22134. Physical examination showed separated mineral to have greasy feel. Microscopical examination showed mineral foliated or having a thin plate-like structure. Adulteration of the product was alleged in the information for the reason that it contained talc, and, further, in that it contained a mineral substance consisting largely of aluminum and iron silicate.”

For more than four years the case went on, until March 12, 1915 when the Rodda Candy Company neither admitted nor disputed the charges and made a nolo contendere plea. Finally, on May 28 of that year, in what seems to have been part of a larger plea bargain, the details of which were either unrecorded or the records of which have disappeared, Acting Secretary of Agriculture Carl Vrooman approved a court imposed fine of a mere five dollars.

The remaining portion of the published case of U.S. v. Rodda.

The remaining portion of the published case of U.S. v. Rodda.

Analysis of Easter Joy by the Agriculture Department’s Bureau of Chemistry further showed showed a significant percentage of silicone dioxide, magnesium oxide and ash in the filling and coating of the mysterious candy.

All of which were used in small traces as emulsifiers for gelatinous foods such as – you guessed it, marshmallow. It certainly was not a product from his primary line of chocolate.

What marshmallow form did “Easter Joy” take exactly?

A Rodda favorite was its "Sparkling Gems" hard candy.

A Rodda favorite was its “Sparkling Gems” hard candy.

Other than the fact that it wasn’t chocolate, based on its composition, it is difficult to tell.

Rodda used all sorts of trade names for his line of sugary surprises, from High Flyers, Bummers, Nifty Beans, Radium Sweets, Rainbow Rays, High Jinks and Boosters.

Over the years, the same products were often repackaged with new names.

And two names pop up like chicks pecking through eggshell. “Cotton Blossoms” and the more spot-on “Marshmallow Pups.”

Marshmallow was listed last but not least in the Rodda lineup.

In fact, by the year of  Rodda’s death, a trade publication listed the company as making “marshmallow products.”

Some twenty years earlier, in the 1922 advertisement shown at right, tucked into a Rodda Candly line is mention of “Marshmallow goods” at the very end, almost as an afterthought.

Was Easter Joy a candy-coated marshmallow egg? A marhmallow-shaped bunny? Or was it perhaps that suspiciously-similar-sounding Marshmallow Pup mushily malformed enough to resemble a Peep? Easter Candyland will, alas, likely never know what marshmallow Easter Joy looked like.

Any sour taste which may have lingered after the humiliating Black Peep Scandal of 1912, however, was surely sweetened by what nobody could dispute was Mr. Rodda’s genuine Easter redemption: Jelly Beans.

 

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hqdefault-1“Father of the Easter Jelly Bean”hqdefault-1

A 1920 ad for Rodda's Jelly Beans.

A 1920 ad for Rodda’s Jelly Beans.

Within five years of the Easter Joy mortification, he picked the company up and gave it a new shine by declaring it to be “The Jelly Bean House of America.”

A rudimentary form of coated fruit gelatin “balls” are traced to the William Schrafft Company of Boston in 1861, which urged loyal citizens to buy their little sweets by the pound, then donate them to the Union Army so soldiers could carry the snack in their uniform pockets without concern for melted candy in their pockets.

Others point to a 1905 Chicago Daily News advertisement for jelly balls and beans selling at nine cents a pound.

Significant, however, is the date of the ad. It appeared on July 5, a good three months after the Easter candy season.

Sweet beans.

Sweet beans.

By the time the 1925 Easter candy season rolled around, the Rodda Company was touting what it called it’s “Celebrated Jelly Egg.”

Roscoe indeed became Father of the Easter Jellybean by a smart marketing campaign which included him simply re-christening the jelly balls and beans as the “Jelly Egg,” making it a natural for the spring candy season.

It was not merely the fact that the new form of Easter egg also came “assorted colors” or “all black,” in regular old sugar or “spiced” flavor, a variety of sizes to which he ingeniously assigned names of different-sized birds (“Bantam [a type of chicken],” “Pigeon” and “Dove”) and shining with a “beautiful polish,” but that Rodda’s was one and only, “The Jelly Egg with the Real Jelly Center.

Rodda delivered the goods when it came to Jelly Beans - like nobody's business.

Rodda delivered the goods when it came to Jelly Beans – like nobody’s business.

And while the authentic and absolute detailed truth about the very first Easter Peep is likely to remain unknown and join the ranks of other endlessly-debated tales of American mythology like Plymouth Rock and Princess Pocahontas, there are millions upon millions of little yellow beings who must surely be thrilled by the annual arrival of millions upon millions of little yellow marshmallows shaped just like them.

Living chicks still endure having their feather and skin dyed in different colors and sold as "toys" for Easter.

Living chicks still endure having their feather and skin dyed in different colors and sold as “toys” for Easter.

Before Peeps began populating every store shelf in America at the beginning of spring, there was an annual tradition of widely permissible animal cruelty that had become an unfortunate Easter custom.

Through almost to the end of the 20th century, unthinking parents, eager to delight their own chickies were in the habit of buying real live baby chicks, newly hatched and then dunked in colored dyes to give their bare brush of feathers a variety of pastel colors.

Spared by their marshmallow doppelgagers.

Spared by their marshmallow doppelgangers.

If the chicks managed to avoid being stomped or poisoned by human food, they often only lived long enough to end up as roast chickens.

The practice of selling baby chicks and dying their feathers and skin still continues, though the numbers have reduced a degree.

Incapable of thinking all this through doesn’t mean chicks don’t feel the threat of danger, the pain of torture and the cruelty of intentional death.

For real Peeps, the fact that millions now focus on buying Marshmallow Peeps at Easter make for an especially meaningful celebration of life.

March of the Peeps.

March of the Peeps.


Categories: Americana, Food, Holidays, Myths

Tags: , , , , , ,

2 replies »

  1. What a sweet read, Carl. I had no idea what local history Peeps has. We’ve lived in the Lancaster, PA area for almost 30 years and never hear a peep about the history of this popular treat. I guess it’s because we’re not that keen on the rainbow marshmellows; however, we are big fans of Hershey dark chcolates and jelly beans. I guess you could say we live in a real candy land here. Wilbur chocolates of Lititz, PA is another fine place in northern Lancaster county to satisfy one’s sweet tooth. Thanks for getting us up to speed on Peeps. Happy Easter! Wishing you a full basket of your favorite holiday treats.
    Namaste, Doug

    • Hey there Doug, thanks for the nice feedback 0 must admit this was a tough and detailed research effort and VI was happy when it was done. Before this I had no idea that your Lancaster Count was considered capitol of snack food. Now I want to check it all out! Happy Easter to you!

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