Tacoma is known as the City of Destiny as it was the last stop for the Northern Pacific Railroad but, did you know that the railroad also helped Tacoma become the candy capitol of the world during the early 1900s? Tacoma’s mild climate was ideal for chocolate making, not too hot to melt it and not too cold to crack it. The newly opened direct trains to the “east” (Chicago and New York City) and the shipping lanes to the West (Asian markets throughout the Pacific) – made it easy for the local candy makers to transform their small store fronts into national and international brands.
During its boom, Tacoma was home to over 50 candy companies. One of the most famous, Brown and Haley, still operates today. Harry L. Brown, a local confectioner, and J.C. Haley, a spice company worker, met in church during the early 1900s and began their iconic candy company in 1912. Don’t recognize the Brown and Haley name? How about Almond Roca or the Mountain Bar? The Mountain Bar was one of the company’s first produced bars and is still a popular “candy that travels” today. Shortly after World War II in 1923, the company focused on innovative new ideas to keep their company in the forefront of the candy industry and the Almond Roca bar, a crunchy, buttery, almond bar covered in chocolate was born.
The bite sized pieces that were transported in pressurized packaging to keep them fresh were a hit across the world and a particular favorite of soldiers during WWII. Another bite sized candy that “melts in your mouth and not in your hand” and was the first candy to travel with astronauts also has its roots in the Tacoma candy boom. In 1913, Frank Mars started a candy business in Tacoma. Mars had success in Tacoma but ended up moving his company to Minnesota, Chicago, and eventually New Jersey. To this day the Mars Candy Company is still home to the Mars, Milky Way, Snickers, 3 Musketeers bars, and M&Ms named by Mars’ son Forrest Mars and his business partner Bruce Murrie.
You can still buy many of the confections developed out of the Tacoma candy boom in the early 1900s and no visit to Tacoma is complete without a stop at the Brown and Haley shop to pick up tasty treats. They are open daily (check hours before you go). If you are looking for a fun interactive tour of the history of candy in Tacoma visit PrettyGrittyTours.com and check out their Sweets Tour!