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The Making of America’s Most Loved Gourmet Jelly Beans

While you’re filling plastic eggs and adorning cupcakes with jelly beans, I thought I’d share with you the making of America’s most loved gourmet jelly beans, Jelly Belly.

Jelly Belly

Colorful, Flavorful Jelly Beans

The Jelly Belly Candy Company produces some of the most flavorful jelly beans with flavors ranging from buttered popcorn to cherry and everything in between. It’s a company started in America in 1869, just two years after brothers Gustav and Albert Goelitz emigrated from the Harz Mountains region of Germany.

Reuniting with an uncle who had migrated five years earlier, Gustav, age 24, set up ice cream and candy store in Belleville, Illinois. Albert, age 21, took to a horse-drawn wagon to sell their confections to surrounding communities.

The Goelitz brothers by no means invented jellybeans. These tiny jelly candies have been around since Biblical times, known as “Turkish Delight,” which originated in Istanbul, Turkey. The original jelly bean was citrus, rose-water, and honey gel with a firm outer coating and chewy center.

In the late 1800s, Americans became infatuated with penny candy as candy makers began creating sugar candies. Inspired by Jordan Almonds, which was then known as “Confetti,” “Turkish Delight” was recreated and shaped into a bean and coated with a soft shell using a process called “panning.” This process originates back the 17th century France. Raw nuts or fruit were placed in a bowl filled with sugar and syrup; then, by hand, the bowl was rocked back and forth until the nuts or fruit were coated with the syrup and sugar. Whose idea it was to change and coat the “Turkish Delight” is unknown, though early advertising records attribute William Schraft, as he promoted sending the jelly beans to Civil War Union Soldiers.

Then one of America’s worst economic depressions hit in 1893. Paper money was double the value of the gold backing it. The financial strain hit the Goelitz Brothers, and they were forced to assign assets to creditors and sell the business. Albert continued selling candy for another company until his death at the age of 80. Gustav, however, never recovered, dying in 1901, just one week shy of his 56th birthday.

In 1898, the next generation of Goelitz, Gustav’s son, Adolph, opened a candy shop in Cincinnati, Ohio, with the help of his friend and neighbor, William Kelley. Edward Kelley, William’s cousin, was hired in 1901 as the company’s bookkeeper. He met and fell in love with Goelitz’s sister, Joanna, through his employment. The two were married, formally joining the Goelitz and Kelley’s into a family partnership.

The 1900s had America in love with chocolate. Then World War II entered, and as chocolate was sent to overseas troops, creating a chocolate shortage, Americans migrated back to penny candies and jelly beans. It was one of, if not the first, of confectionary items to be sold by weight as “bulk candy.”

The country’s candy manufacturers employed an estimated 27,000 workers, and the Goelitz Confectionery Company prospered. The arrival of 1912 had the company turning away orders due to the lack of production capacity.

Goelitz and Kelley found a factory along the north shores of Lake Michigan. Its site offered rail service, and the land was affordable. They purchased the factory and moved the company to North Chicago.

Income tax was introduced in 1913 and closed the doors of many mom-and-pop candy makers. Goelitz Confectionery Company was well established and survived, making primarily buttercreams, later known as mellow cremes. Licorice, chocolate, and peppermints were also manufactured. However, the Mello cremes kept the company growing for the next five decades.

The best seller for the Goelitz Confectionery Company was candy corns. Origin shows the candy corn being invented during the 1880s, thought Goelitz Confectionery Company’s don’t show production of candy corn until 1900. Regardless of when they began manufacturing candy corns, the company created a reputation for the finest candy corn on the market.

Candy making was seasonal work, mainly March through Thanksgiving, employing 30 workers for the autumn candy production. Without air conditioning, the factory was hot as more than 50 batches of candy were created each day.

Employees worked six, ten-hour days at a wage of $5.22 per week in 1900. The weekly salary rose to $11.18 per week by 1917.

Men, employed as “stringers,” would walk backward pouring “runners,” hand-held buckets, each weighing 45 pounds, into trays of cornstarch imprinted with kernel-shaped molds. The candy corn production required three passes: one for orange, white, and yellow colors.

Wooden buckets, tubs, and cartons were used to pack customer orders. Using paste, the workers made themselves; labels were placed on the packages and delivered by wagon to customers in the area. Railroad cars handled orders for customers of longer distances. Very long distances were not an option due to the perishability of the product.

The beginning of World War I found turmoil within the company. Gus Jr. left the business permanently. Herman migrated west to California and opened his own company, The Herman Goelitz Candy Co. Herman, manufactured what Herman knew best: Candy Corn. He was too far from his family’s business to compete.

19-year-old Herman Rowland adds jelly beans to production

Following the Great Depression, the third generation of the California and Illinois candy-making companies saw other manufacturers creating candy corns and undercutting prices. It was hurting both businesses. William Kelley, based in Illinois, and Herman Rowland, a descendant of Gustav Goelitz, recognized that expansion was necessary to survive. They needed to diversify the product or close their doors. The company, led by 19-year-old Herman Rowland, expanded, adding Chocolate Dutch Mints, gummi bears, jelly beans, and jells to production.

No decision can be made without a jar of jelly beans

The Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, wrote his famous letter stating, “We can hardly start a meeting or make a decision without passing around the jar of jelly beans” in 1967.

Sugar prices soared in 1975, and the candy business went out of business as buyers held back orders hoping to wait out the crisis. The Chicago plant was closed for a couple of months to buy time, while Herman borrowed heavily to buy sugar to continue production in California.

The Rolls Royce of Jelly Beans

A driver for a candy distributor, David Klein, approached Herman Rowland and shared his childhood dream to create “the Rolls Royce of jelly beans.” The Goelitz candy makers, who had built a reputation for quality, crafted eight flavors of small, intensely flavored jelly beans in the summer of 1976. The company created a process that cooked the flavors into the shells and the center of the jelly beans and used natural ingredients wherever possible. They spared no cost in using only the very best ingredients.

The Goeltiz’s chose unusual flavors, never made into jelly beans: Very Cherry, Lemon, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Root Beer, Grape, and Licorice. They called these jelly beans Jelly Bellys, a derivation from a rhyme with the 1920s blues singer Leadbelly. The new flavors were sold individually, revolutionizing the mixed bags of jelly beans.

The Jelly Bellys were a sensation, and Herman found himself needing more production to meet the demand. He called William Kelley in Illinois, and the candy-making family was reunited with a single company for the first time in 58 years.

Jelly Beans for a President

During the 1980 Presidential Election, Jelly Belly entered the homes of America. Former Governor, Ronald Reagan, won the election and brought Jelly Belly into the White House. Reagan’s passion for jelly beans introduced Blueberry Jelly Bellys to serve red, white, and blue jelly beans at inaugural parties. Production increased to around the clock, and orders from current retailers were booked two years in advance of being able to ship.

Three tons of Jelly Bellys were served at the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan ( More than 10,000 Jelly Bellys were used to create a portrait of Ronald Reagan.

Jelly Belly was the first jelly bean in outer space. In 1983 as a presidential surprise for the astronauts, Jelly Bellys were sent on the space shuttle Challenger. It was also the flight of the first American female astronaut, Sally Ride.

Jelly Beans–One Calorie Candies

Each Jelly Belly has just one calorie! This makes it a choice snack among dieters as the Jelly Bellys taste so much like the foods they are supposed to be that it feels like an indulgence eating caramel apple or buttered popcorn!

Today, the Jelly Belly Candy Company is the world’s choice for gourmet jelly beans. They have fifty official flavors and countless other flavors, from special to collections to wacky. Jelly Belly offers popular Movie Flavors. The Ant Bully provides the flavor, dirt. However, the best-selling movie flavors come from Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, featuring flavors like Ear Wax, Rotten Egg, and Vomit.

Jelly Bean Recipes on the Package

Consumers love mixing different Jelly Belly Jelly Beans flavors to create a new flavor. It’s so much fun that the company has a link to recipes on its website, and recipes can be found on each package of Jelly Bellys.

The company still manufactures candy corn and more than 100 other candies, including gummies, sour candies, and chocolates.


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