The origins of the candy cane are said to date back to the 1600s in Germany. Tradition has it that Bavarian immigrant August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, put candy canes on America’s first Christmas tree in 1847. It’s also frequently written that candy canes didn’t get their stripes until the 1900s.
August Imgard might have been the first person in America to decorate a Christmas tree with candy canes, but there is no 19th century documentation of how his tree was decorated. An 1860 magazine story called ‘The Christmas Tree” mentioned that “striped candy” decorated the tree. An 1865 story in Harper’s Weekly showed a young girl who wanted a candy cane for Christmas. Christmas, Christmas trees, and candy canes appear to have been part of the American holiday tradition by at least the 1860s.
The candy cane became striped much before 1900. An 1859 newspaper story from Boston mentioned “striped candy” sold at a circus. An 1874 newspaper story compared candy canes to the striped barber’s pole. It seems probable that candy canes received their red-and-white stripes by the 1850s.
Wikipedia: Candy cane
A candy cane is a hard cane-shaped candy stick. It is traditionally white with red stripes and flavored with peppermint or cinnamon (also known respectively as a peppermint stick or cinnamon stick); however, it is also made in a variety of other flavors and may be decorated with stripes of different colors and thicknesses. The candy cane is a traditional candy surrounding the Christmas holiday, particularly in the Western world, although it is possible to find them throughout the year.
In its early form, the candy cane began as a simple white stick of sugar for children to enjoy - there was no “cane” shape or stripes to speak of. While it is uncertain where the first canes originated, it is clear that by the mid-17th century, if not earlier, its use had already become widespread across Europe. These sticks were made by confectioners who had to pull, cut, twist, and (in later years) bend the sugar sticks by hand, making it a time-intensive process. Candy cane production had to be done locally, since they were easily damaged and vulnerable to moisture. The labor and lack of storage combined to make these candies relatively hard to get, although popular.
The cane shape
The distinctive “hook” shape associated with candy canes is traditionally credited to a choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral in Germany, who, legend has it, in 1670 bent straight candy sticks into canes to represent a shepherd’s crook, and gave them to children at church services. The shepherd’s staff is often used in Christianity as a metaphor for The Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. It is also possible that, as people decorated their Yule trees with food, the bent candy cane was invented as a functional solution.
In Europe, candy canes were used to decorate Yule trees along with other items of food. In North America, the first documented example of the use of candy canes to celebrate Christmas occurred in 1847, when a German-Swedish immigrant by the name of August Imgard hung the candy canes from the branches of a Christmas tree. Christmas cards from the following decades show Christmas trees decorated with candy canes, first white canes, then striped ones in the 20th century. This then spread to the rest of the continent, where it continues to remain a popular Christmas tradition.
Red stripes and peppermint flavor
The stripes are made similar in fashion to a barber’s pole, with the red stripes twisting around the white stick of sugar. These signature stripes did not become part of the candy cane until the 20th century. It is uncertain who first started using the stripes, but evidence of their use only appears after the turn of the century. At around this time, candy makers began using peppermint as a flavor.
Bob’s Candies was the first company to successfully mass-produce and distribute candy canes while preserving their freshness. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes as special Christmas treats in the 1920s. That decade also saw the company’s use of cellophane as a wrapping to keep moisture from damaging the candies, and by the 1950s, they were using a candy cane machine invented by his brother-in-law Gregory Keller to mass-produce them. These two inventions made it feasible to mass produce, ship, and distribute candy canes. The following years saw further refinements in packaging and design to protect the candies from being broken, making it more practical to store them and ship them for longer periods of time.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
candy cane n. orig. U.S. a stick of striped rock with a hooked end, resembling a walking stick, and traditionally eaten (or used as a decoration) at Christmas.
1875 Wellsboro (Pa.) Agitator (Electronic text) 21 Dec., What roguish audacity has planted a *candy cane in papa’s stocking, a candy slipper in mamma’s!
2000 D. HARRIS Cute, Quaint, Hungry & Romantic 44 Families huddle around roaring fires sipping mulled apple cider while candles twinkle on trees festooned with candy canes.
4 July 1859, Boston (MA) Daily Courier, “The Fourth,” pg. 2:
...some lemonade (circus lemonade), striped candy, pea-nuts…
21 December 1860, Farmer’s Cabinet (NH), pg. 1:
The Christmas Tree.
[The following extract is from a little volme by the Editor of the Home Monthly.]
There were toys and candies, bags of peppermints, and all manner of pretty things to please the young. Besides, the tree was trimmed with artificial flowers, and there were sticks of striped candy suspended from the twigs in rows around the tree.
23 December 1865, Harper’s Weekly, pg. 807:
“Auntie” took her pen and wrote verbatim at the child’s dictation: “Dear Santa Claus,—I wish you would get me a little dolly, turning around, if that belongs to Christmas; and a candy cane, if that belongs to Christmas. If it don’t, I don’t want it. And an apron for my doll, if Christmas brings aprons. If it don’t, I don’t want any. That is all I want.”
3 September 1874, Jackson Sentinel (Maquoketa, Iowa), “A Barber Shop,” pg. 1, cols. 4-5:
“Candy doesn’t grow,” objected Hetty.
“Yes, it does; ‘cause candy and sugar’s all the same, and George said sugar grew in canes. And this is a candy cane, only it hasn’t got any knob at the top,” argued Kitty.
“Halloo! there’s a barber’s pole.”
“No, it’s candy,” said Kitty.
“Well, it looks like a striped pole, any way.”
-- Kate W. Hamilton, in N. Y. Independent.
By Mrs. Burton Harrison (Constance Harrison—ed.)
New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons
“But it’s the stocking, Rosa. My old Chickabiddy used to give me such a long one to hang up, and it was always cram-full, and had a real peppermint cane sticking out of the top of it. It was so nice, waking up in the dark, and feeling for the funny stiff toe dangling there by your bed. Chickabiddy told me she, herself, saw Santa Claus stuffing the things in; and I do love Chickabiddy.”
26 January 1885, San Francisco (CA) Bulletin, pg. 1:
The death of a child from eating red-striped candy occurred recently in Stewart county, Ga.
11 July 1891, The Critic, pg. 19, col. 2:
The intellectual advantages of the Hub of Creation (Boston, MA—ed.) do not prevent them from taking a natural and proper delight in the confectioners’ shops on Hanover Street, with their sugar hens and dogs and peppermint canes.
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Division of Chemistry.
Bulletin No. 13.
Foods and Food Adulterants
Investigations made under the direction of H. W. Wiley
Sugar, Molasses and Sirup, COnfections, Honey and Beeswax.
Washington, DC; Government Printing Office
Bought of --
A. Jewell, manufacturer, 262 Grand street, New York.
Peppermint Cane. Color, white and red. Opaque.
7 August 1892, New Orleans (LA) Times Picayune, “The Sugar Plum Tree” (poem), pg. 14:
There are marshmallows, gumdrops and peppermint canes,
With stripings of scarlet or gold,
And you carry away of the treasure that rains
As much as your apron can hold!
(Euqene Field in Chicago News Record—ed.)
26 November 1894, Kansas City (MO) Times, “The ‘Imperial Winter Circus,’” pg. 4:
To make the delusion more complete, venders of lemonade, chewing gum, pop-corn, peanuts and red striped candy pass among the spectators, crying their wares as does the omnipresent fakir at the summer circus.
13 February 1896, Macon (GA) Weekly Telegraph, pg. 3:
This prize was one of those extra large sized sticks of red striped peppermint candy, and was awarded to Miss Mary White,.
12 September 1896, New York (NY) Times, pg. 6, col. 1:
Several booths were set up on the lawn, which were elaborately decorated with flowers and bunting. The candy table was, perhaps, the most conspicuous feature of the lawn decorations, the idea being novel and particularly well carried out. in the centre, with an altitude of thirty-five feet, rose a counterfeit of the striped peppermint candy cane, so familiar on holidays, while around it were a dozen others ten feet high. Strands of green and streamers of red and white cloth fell from the tall cane in festoons to the tops of the smaller ones, and thus the Maypole effect was very nicely carried out. The handle of the centre cane was red, with great red and white bows.
A Boy I Knew and Four Dogs
By Laurence Hutton
Autobiographical; founded on papers which appeared originally in St. Nicholas—Introductory note.
New York, NY: Harper
The Boy usually kept his promises, however, and he was known even to keep a candy-cane—twenty-eight inches long, red and white striped like a barber’s pole—for a fortnight, because his mother limited him to the consumption of two inches a day.
Tales Told Out of School
By Edward S. Ellis
Syracuse, NY: C. W. Bardeen
Just before the Christmas holidays, one of the (Pg. 55—ed.) smallest lads on our floor brought a candy cane with crimson stripes like a barber’s pole. He carried it with the utmost pains, for it was brittle and many of his schoolmates cast envious eyes at it, while no doubt he yearned to taste of its sweetness himself.
18 December 1906, Idaho Falls (ID) Times. pg. 2:
FIRST XMAS TREE
INTRODUCED IN AMERICA BY GERMAN AT WOOSTER, O.
Created Much Comment at the Time—First Church Christmas Tree In This Country Also Credited to Ohio Town.
21 December 1914, Cleveland (OH) Plain-Dealer, pg. 3:
WONDER OVER TREE
Ohioans Note Christmas Custom for First Time in 1847, When German Immigrant Sighs for Fatherland Traditions.
17 December 1938, Chester (PA) Times, pg. 9, col. 4:
They’re Still Cheering Man
Who Gave America Christmas Tree
Cleveland Ceremonies Honor Him
August Imgard, a tailor of Wooster, O., was the man honored. It was in Wooster, just 91 years ago, that his “first” Christmas tree in America was decorated. Imgard was born in the Bavarian mountains of Germany, 112 years ago. He came to America and moved to Ohio before he was 20.
The first tree was raised in the Imgard home. It stood on a revolving platform and as the tree turned slowly, a hidden music box tinkled a Christmas melody. People came from miles around to see the first tree and the following year there were many trees.
Ornaments were made of paper, festooned in long chains by the younger members of the pioneer community. Kuchen baked according to a recipe sent from Bavaria by Imgard’s mother, hung upon the tree and served both as ornaments and tidbits. The cookies were colored with brown sugar and the family spent weeks baking them in quantities for the guests.
Gilded nuts were other ornaments and inside the gilded shells were warm messages of greeting and little poems of love and life on the old frontier.