The Origin of the Conversation Heart


Valentine's Day means chalky candy hearts with a lot to say. But what's behind these very loud little candies?

The story of conversation hearts began in 1847, when a Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase longed for a way to get in on the apothecary lozenge craze. Lozenges were quickly gaining steam as the medicine conveyance of choice, and were also popular remedies for sore throats and bad breath. But making lozenges was complicated and time-consuming—the process involved a mortar and pestle, kneading dough, rolling it out, and cutting it into discs that would eventually become lozenges.

There had to be a better way, and Oliver came up with it. Inspired by the new wave of gadgets and tools that hit America as it industrialized, he invented a machine that rolled lozenge dough and pressed wafers into perfect discs. Oliver had inadvertently created America’s first candy-making machine, and before long, he had abandoned his pharmacy business to crank out miles of what would become New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) wafers.

Legend has it that Oliver’s NECCO wafers were carried by Civil War soldiers, and some speculate that the tradition of sending loving greetings to the troops morphed into the conversation heart, but those claims are hard to verify. What is clear is that as Oliver built his candy empire, his brother Daniel decided he wanted a piece of the action. 

Inspired by the growing market for Valentine’s cards (which were popularized in the United States by Esther Howland, also a resident of Boston at the time), Daniel wondered if it would be possible to print sentimental messages on candy. In 1866, he figured out a way to print words on candy with vegetable dye during the cutting process.

People loved conversation candies (they weren’t available in heart shapes until 1902) and their witty messages, which could stoke the flames of love or warn off flaky suitors. Daniel’s candies were bigger than today’s version and had phrases like “MARRIED IN WHITE YOU HAVE CHOSEN RIGHT” and “HOW LONG SHALL I HAVE TO WAIT? PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE” emblazoned on a pastel, scalloped wafer. 

By the turn of the century, the conversation heart was a Valentine’s cliché. Here’s how they were used at a Boston party in 1911:

Partners for the evening were found by means of candy “motto” hearts. These were broken in two, and each young lady was given a piece, but the men were obliged to hunt for theirs. As they were carefully hidden, this took some length of time and proved an excellent ‘ice breaker.’ The silly mottoes were read with laughter as the couples chose their tables.

Over the years, conversation hearts lost size, but gained many more phrases. NECCO estimates that it makes nearly 100,000 pounds of the hearts each day throughout the year in preparation for Valentine’s Day. Among this year’s selection? BFF, TE AMO, and GIRL POWER.

Additional Sources: Alfred Stillé and John Michael Maisch,The National Dispensatory: Containing the Natural History, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Actions and Uses of Medicines, Including Those Recognized in the Pharmacopœias of the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, with Numerous References to the French CodexSweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy The Mother of the Valentine,” WBUR News; "Civil War Soldiers and Conversation Hearts,” The Historical SocietyEntertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super BowlThe Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics, Volume 15The History of Sweethearts; “2015’s 8 New Phrases for Conversation Hearts,” WGNA.

This post originally ran in 2015.

Afternoon Map
The Most Popular Jelly Bean Flavors in America, State by State

America loves jelly beans. According to the National Confectioners Association, U.S. candy lovers buy about 16 billion jelly beans per year. But which flavors are they buying? Just like every state has its favorite horror movie, dog breed, and comic-book universe, America’s love of certain jelly bean flavors varies by region. went through more than a decade of its sales data and polled 12,000 candy customers through SurveyMonkey and Facebook to figure out the top jelly bean flavor across the country and in each state, creating an interactive infographic with the results.

Though it sounds like an unusual flavor to us, buttered popcorn is a shockingly popular taste, ranking No. 1 nationally and in 10 states. Black licorice was ranked No. 2 nationally, and was the state-wide favorite in eight states.

Other flavors were not as widely beloved. Coconut was the favorite flavor of just one state, Massachusetts. Chocolate was a popular flavor only in Illinois, ranking first there, but almost at the bottom of the list nationally—21 out of 30 flavors.

Some flavors the survey asked about didn’t even make it on the state list. Pomegranate wasn’t in the running—even when you include data on each state’s first, second, and third-favorite flavors. Nor was raspberry, lime, or other seemingly tasty jelly beans.

Scroll over the infographic to see which flavor each state’s candy lovers chose. See if your state’s candy tastes are accurately represented, then scroll down to see the full list of national rankings.

Source: 10+ years online candy sales data from

1. Buttered Popcorn
2. Black Licorice
3. Cinnamon
4. Watermelon
5. Cherry
6. Pear / Juicy Pear
7. Orange
8. Green Apple
9. Toasted Marshmallow
10. Coconut
11. Strawberry
12. Cotton Candy
13. Blueberry
14. Bubblegum
15. Root Beer
16. Peach
17. Coffee
18. Grape
19. Lemon
20. Red Apple
21. Chocolate
22. Banana
23. Lime
24. Sour Jelly Beans
25. Tutti Frutti
26. Maple
27. Vanilla
28. Cream Soda
29. Raspberry
30. Pomegranate

Gumdrop LTD.
British Designer Recycles Used Chewing Gum Into Everyday Items—Including the Soles of Shoes
Gumdrop LTD.
Gumdrop LTD.

Even if you never chew gum, you may have stepped on a gob of the stuff discarded on a sidewalk or felt it stuck beneath a park bench. Chewing gum is the second most common source of litter, behind cigarettes, and because it isn't biodegradable, cities are struggling to get rid of it. Now, the BBC reports that British designer Anna Bullus has found an ingenious alternative to tossing old gum on the ground: She's repurposing it into new products normally made out of rubber or plastic.

Bullus started her gum recycling project by installing bright pink bins called Gumdrops around sites in the UK. The containers, which are made from recycled gum themselves, come with signs telling passersby that any old gum dropped into the bin will be recycled. In some places, the receptacles led to an 89 percent decrease in gum litter.

After analyzing the chemistry of chewing gum, Bullus found that it contains polyisobutylene, a type of polymer similar to plastic that's often used as a synthetic rubber. This means it can be used to make everyday products like doorstops, coffee cups, and plasticware. It can even been turned into playful pink soles for shoes, which look much more attractive than the gum that normally ends up on the bottom of your shoe.

The collected gum is processed with other plastic polymers at a recycling plant in Worcester, and from there it's sent to a plastic molding specialist in Leicester, where Bullus executes her designs. Combs, lunchboxes, pencils, Frisbees and many other items made from gum are available to order from the Gumdrop website. Anna Bullus is also accepting suggestions of other products to make from the chewed-up gum she collects.

Pink coffee cups.

Pink guitar pick.

Dog catching frisbee.

Pink rubber boot.

[h/t BBC]

All images courtesy of Gumdrop Ltd.


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