"Salt water taffy” supposedly originated by accident in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1883. Salt water taffy was served at other seaside places (such as Coney Island), but it remains an Atlantic City specialty.
The earliest printed “salt water taffy” citation found so far is from a Chester, Pennsylvania newspaper in 1886.
Wikipedia: Salt water taffy
Salt water taffy is a kind of taffy originally produced and marketed in the Atlantic City, New Jersey area beginning in the late 19th century.
The origins of the name are unknown. It could be because the recipe for the candy contains both salt and water. The most popular story, although probably apocryphal, concerns a candy-store owner, Mr. David Bradley, whose shop was flooded during a major storm in 1883. His entire stock of taffy was soaked with salty Atlantic Ocean water. When a young girl asked if he had any taffy for sale, he is said to have offered some “salt water taffy.” The girl was delighted, she bought the candy and proudly walked down to the beach to show her friends. Mr. Bradley’s mother was in the back and heard the exchange. She loved the name and so Salt Water Taffy was born.
Whatever the origins, Joseph Fralinger popularized the candy by boxing it and selling it as an Atlantic City souvenir. His company is still one of the largest retailers of salt water taffy.
Fralinger’s first major competition came from candy maker Enoch James, who refined the recipe, making it less sticky and easier to unwrap. James also cut the candy into bite-sized pieces, and is credited with mechanizing the “pulling” process.
In the early 1920s, John Edmiston obtained a trademark for the name “original salt water taffy,” then demanded royalties from companies using his newly acquired name. He was sued over this demand, and in 1923, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that the phrase had been in common use too long to claim royalties.
Salt water taffy is still sold widely on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, and other touristed beachfront areas throughout the United States.
James’ and Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy
THE ACCIDENTAL TAFFY
Legend has it that Salt Water Taffy received its name by accident. A young candy merchant, opened a taffy stand on the first Atlantic City Boardwalk - then just two steps above sea level. One night a generous tide brought in a lively surf which sprayed sea foam over his establishment and dampened his stock of candy. The next morning, the merchant was dismayed to find his merchandise wet and responded to a girl’s request for taffy with a sarcastic but witty, “you mean Salt Water Taffy.” The name, stuck!
FROM FISH MERCHANT TO CANDY MAKER
At the same time Joseph Fralinger, a former glassblower and fish merchant, opened a retail store on the Boardwalk. Within a year, Fralinger had added a taffy concession and spent the winter perfecting the Salt Water Taffy formula, first using molasses, then chocolate and vanilla, eventually reaching 25 flavors
As Fralinger’s grew to six locations, he decided that Salt Water Taffy should return home with resort visitors. Using experience from his fish merchant days, he packed one pound oyster boxes with Salt Water Taffy, making it the first “Atlantic City Souvenir.” The one pound box still remains the most popular souvenir almost 125 years later. By 1899 Salt Water Taffy had become a household word across America!
PULLING THE HISTORY TOGETHER
Meanwhile, confectioner Enoch James and his sons claim to have been making Salt Water Taffy before they introduced it on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in the 1880’s. After many years of working for large candy companies throughout the country, Mr. James brought his family to Atlantic City to sell their “original” Salt Water Taffy.
Enoch James developed a high quality recipe that would not pull out one’s teeth. He also eliminated the stickiness that made the taffy and its wrapper inseparable. The result was a smooth, rich, wholesome taffy available in a variety of flavors and a new “Cut-to-fit-the-mouth” shape. The James’ product line soon extended to chocolate dipped Salt Water Taffy, filled centers, chocolate taffy pops, macaroons and boardwalk fudge. Enoch James’ packaged his confections in seashore novelties such as the “barrel” and “satchel” that are still popular today.
COOK, PULL, CUT AND WRAP -
MAKING SALT WATER TAFFY!
In the 1880’s, Salt Water Taffy was cooked in copper kettles over open coal fires, cooled on marble slabs, and pulled on a large hook on the wall. Pulling the taffy was designed to add air to the corn syrup and sugar confection. By draping 10 to 25 pounds of cooled taffy over the hook and then pulling it away from the hook, the taffy stretched. When the taffy reached five or six feet in length, the puller looped the taffy back over the hook, folding it onto itself and trapping air between the two lengths.
An accomplished taffy puller would work quickly and listen for the familiar swish sound, then the smack or slap sound of the two lengths as they joined as one. This process of aeration helped to keep the taffy soft and prevented stickiness. The pulled taffy was then shaped by hand rolling it on a marble or wooden table into ¼ inch diameter snake. It was then cut to the proper length with scissors. And finally, the taffy was wrapped in a pre-cut piece of paper with a twist at both ends. All of this was done by hand and usually within the sight of Boardwalk strollers who were eager for entertainment.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
salt-water taffy (TAFFY1, var. form of TOFFEE n.) U.S., a type of confectionery made chiefly from corn syrup and sugar, freq. sold at North-eastern (chiefly New Jersey) seaside resorts.
1894 Official Gaz. (U.S. Patent Office) 17 July 410/1 (caption) The representation of a four masted schooner with the words ‘The Original Atlantic City Salt Water Taffy’.
1910 H. T. PECK New Baedeker II. vi. 309 And there are also itinerant venders of every sort of edible..from ‘salt-water taffy’..down to peanuts and ‘hot dogs’.
18 December 1886, Chester (PA) Times, pg. 7, col. 5 ad:
Armstrong’s Taffy Factory
Among the lot are Opera Caramels, Salt Water Taffy, Butter Taffy, Sugar-Coated Peanuts, Candy Toys, Cream Mixtures, Fruits, Maple Syrup, Honey and other good things.
180 West Third Street
30 August 1889, Frederick (MD) News, pg. 3, col. 2:
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Aug. 28. --
As one walks along this gay boulevard along the ocean you are everywhere confronted with the sign, “salt water taffy.” But if you purchase once you’ll never want any more, we suppose it gets its name from the fact of being made alongside of the salt water. And as for taste, well he who has never tasted Beckley’s home made candies, Bowers’ French bonbons, McCardell’s chocolate creams and Albaugh’s specialties can justly say salt water taffy can’t hold a candle to any of them.
9 August 1890, Frederick (MD) News, pg. 5, col. 5:
I just want to show them salt water taffy people what the manufacturing interests of Frederick are. I know they will want the recipe for both, but nary pop, they are copyrighted.