The Revolutionary Story Behind Mary Jane Candies
These small, molasses sweets have been around for more than 100 years, but beneath their sticky exterior, Mary Jane candies contain a revolutionary tidbit.
In 1884, Boston entrepreneur Charles H. Miller decided to try his hand at candy-making. Like many young businessmen, Miller didn’t have a lot of working capital when he entered the confectionary market, and so with no storefront or workspace, he opted to make candy in the kitchen of his own Boston home, with help from his three sons. After spending 30 years handcrafting candies in their home-based shop, Miller's son, Charles N. Miller, came upon the perfect flavor combination that would solidify the family name in candy history: a sticky mixture of peanut butter and molasses.
Mary Janes were sold out of dime stores as penny candies starting in 1914, and the Charles N. Miller Company thrived off of marketing the taffy-like sweets as being inexpensive treats. Early slogans persuaded sweet-tooths to “use your change for Mary Janes.”
Rather than naming the sticky candies after an historical figure or family pet, Miller chose to honor his favorite aunt by naming the chews after her. Or at least, that's the company line. Some have contested the validity of Miller’s name choice, suggesting that the story about his aunt is a lie and rather, Miller selected the name as a ploy for free advertising from the popular early century Buster Brown comic strip, which featured a character named Mary Jane. (While Buster Brown was created 12 years before Mary Jane candies—and the style of girls shoes actually are named after the cartoon lass—there’s no hard evidence to support this theory.)
The molasses chews were wrapped in yellow wax paper donning one red stripe, and featured a small girl named Mary Jane. Despite 100 years in production, the outside (and inside) of Mary Jane candies has remained virtually the same as when Miller first concocted the treat more than a century ago, except for specialty editions like full-sized Mary Jane bars, some covered in chocolate, and the occasional Halloween mix.
But besides his confections, what made Miller's Boston house-turned-candy shop so special was an earlier occupant, one who is best known in textbooks for his midnight ride that warned fellow colonists about incoming British Redcoats. That's right—American folk hero Paul Revere lived in the North End home at 19 North Square for 30 years (including in 1775, when he made a name for himself on that famous ride).
Fast forward more than 200 years, and Miller’s candy company was sold to Stark Candy in 1989. Within a year, the recipe and rights for Mary Jane were sold to NECCO, the same company that produces Conversation Hearts and NECCO Wafers. And in a move that brings the fun link between the candy and the legendary patriot full circle, NECCO continues to produce Mary Janes—unironically—in Revere, Massachusetts.
Even as an occasional dentist, we think that's a connection Paul Revere could rally behind.