I was the first grandchild in my family, and being the oldest, I was the only grandchild for years. When Easter came around I would go to my grandmother’s house. This was around 1935 through 1938. My grandmother gave me an Easter basket filled with hard-boiled eggs and jelly beans, twice as big as the one’s today. When I finished what was inside, I could eat the basket- I don’t remember what it was made of exactly…licorice, I think.
My parents didn’t have much money. My father worked for the International Harvester company. He had to work long days with no vacation time. That was before unions. As time went on, he got laid off because of strikes and general lay-offs. During those times, he worked husking corn to bring in money and only made three dollars a day.
Trips to Grandmother’s House
Going to my grandmother’s house was a real treat. My grandfather worked for the railroad in an office. They had a parlor and living room with a mantle clock that chimed. They gave me things I never had at home, like butter and bananas. They seemed so luxurious back then. They also had a piano and at Christmas, my aunt would play songs and we’d all stand around and sing.
In the summer, my grandmother set up a little rod iron table that had belonged to my aunt when she was little. It was white, not like the one’s today, with a sideboard and chair. She gave me Ritz crackers and a glass of water and some sugar, I think. I would pick peppermint leaves and make a delicious drink.
Later, the other grandchildren came along. My uncle had eight children and it got too expensive for my grandmother to give all of us a fancy Easter basket like the ones I had. I was lucky to be the oldest…I remember those Easter baskets with the jelly beans and boiled eggs well.
Mother, Grandmother, and Great-Grandmother
In the summer of 1952, when I was 6 years old, I started David Klein. John Rogers. Associated Press. Working at the liquor store my grandparents owned with my Aunt Ida.
It was called “Lazy Bee Liquor” on the corners of Kester and Burbank Blvd in Van Nuys, California. The clientele was actively involved in the movie business: acting, producing, and writing. A lot of movie stars were living around it…Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Tony Dow from “Leave it to Beaver.” Annette Funicello’s father owned the Union 76 Gas Station right next door.
The History of the Jelly Belly
My grandparents were immigrants from Russia. They were hard-working people who lived in a duplex about half a block away so they could walk to work …my grandfather never got his license. I lived a few blocks away and walked to the store every morning and my aunt walked me home later in the day.
As part of my duties, I went with my Aunt Ida to a candy wholesaler called Smart and Final to select candy for the store. My aunt was about 4 ft 8 and loaded with energy. My dad called her “Little Caesar” because she was always telling people what to do. Most people use to call her “Shorty.” She never married and only went on one date. And the man tried to borrow money from her. On the first date. Can you believe that?
So, here’s what I remember: At the warehouse, we looked through the candy. Let’s say you wanted to taste a sample like a Look bar, remember those? They retailed for a nickel. You could open the box, put a nickel in and taste a bar. If you liked it, you got the whole box. If not, you left the nickel there to let whoever did get the box start with a sale. And that’s what you did. It wouldn’t be like that today.
David Klein “We Bought A Candy Store”
We brought the candy back to the store and I would fill up the display case. As I filled it, I would look at the wrapper to see where they came from… I became an expert in candy…in Junior High, if anyone wanted to know where their candy came from, I could tell them. I knew about liquor, too. I knew what a fifth of whiskey meant. Hardly anyone else did. Hardly anyone knows today.
When I was 18, five years after the liquor store closed, I went into a popcorn and caramel corn business called “Big Dave’s” with my uncle Earl, Ida’s brother, who we called “Itchy.” We made no money. It just wasn’t profitable. Later, I went into the candy and nut business. At first, I just focused on walnuts… and brought in millions after only three months.
David Klein Came up with the First Jelly Belly
One and a half years later, I came up with the idea for Jelly Belly. Instead of just having the flavor in the shell, my idea was to infuse the entire bean with new and unusual flavors. I thought up the name “JelIy Belly” when I was watching “Stanford and Sons,” you remember that show, right? They were talking about Lead Belly. I didn’t know who Lead Belly was…If I knew he was in jail for murder, I may not have used the name.
I approached The Herman Goelitz Candy Company and asked them to be my contract manufacturer. And that’s what they were. At first, the jelly bean was a flop. Then I got the Associated Press to write an article about it and they really took off! The Goelitz Company bought me out four years later, including the trademark for the name. I can’t use the name and I couldn’t compete with jelly beans for 20 years.
The 20 years is over now and I’ve developed a new line of jelly beans [David’s Signature Beyond Gourmet Jelly Beans]. They’re different: they’re delicious and all-natural. And my company, “Can You Imagine That!” won The Most Innovative Product Award for Farts® Candy which I developed with Leaf Brands. I’m also working on a project that raises money through candy sales to send kids with cancer to summer camp. I’m proud of that the most.
A movie “Candy Man: The David Klein Story” including David’s bitter-sweet experience with Jelly Belly, is available online and through Amazon.
The history of the jelly bean is remarkable, crossing cultures and centuries, finding favor with sultans and proprietors at ancient apothecaries, living many lives as a war-time sweet, a literary symbol, an Easter candy, and, finally a year-round treat.
In the Beginning…
The beginning, in this case, is 226-652 AD. The place is the Persian Empire where the ruling power, the Sasanids, enjoyed a sweet called “abhisa”¹ made of honey, fruit syrups, and starch. Jump ahead to the 9th century and this treat was being made in Arab apothecaries as a remedy for sore throats. Its new name, “Rahat ul-hulküm,” was later shortened to the modern, “lokum,” meaning “throats ease.”²³
The sweet had a more or less humble life until the 1750’s when Sultan Abdul Hamid I fell in love with it and, according to legend, had his chefs prepare daily batches to satiate his many wives. Trade being what it was at the time, word spread, and folks in England started enjoying it, too, renaming it “lumps-of-delight.”
There, in the mid-1800s, it took on literary life, starting with Charles Dickens’ “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” (1870) where character Rosa Bud announces: “I want to go to the Lumps-of-Delight shop.”4 Soon, the candy was called “Turkish Delight”: a name which has endured in the English-speaking world ever since. Most notably, the Turkish Delight appeared in C.S. Lewis’ 1950 classic, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” where it reigned as young Edmund Pevensie’s greatest passion. Thanks to the book and, more recently, the movie, most Americans seem to know the Turkish Delight although far fewer have tried it. Or so they think.
War, Love, and the American Jelly Bean
In the mid-1800s an unknown candy maker in Boston panned the delight–a process originating in the 16th century of rolling a nut, seed, sugar crystal or other food in layers of sugar for a smooth shell. In 1861, Boston candy-maker William Shrafft is believed to have sent the new treat to Union soldiers and encouraged others to do the same.
Soon after that sweets become part of a new confectionery family known as “penny candy”: an inexpensive and fun sort of confection that allowed everyone, rich and poor, access to sweets. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle mentioned the candy on October 2, 1898, and soon a pound was selling at nine to twelve cents. (5) And it was in this new, penny candy guise that the panned delight took on yet another name: the “jelly bean.”
But why “jelly bean”? Obviously, it resembled a bean. But culturally, the name sprouts up everywhere; it referred to a fellow who shows up for a date well dress, nicely coiffed, but has nothing else going for him. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a story “The Jelly Bean” in 1922, in which he wrote: “’ Jelly-bean’ is the name throughout the undissolved Confederacy for one who spends his life conjugating the verb to idle in the first person singular—I am idling, I have idled, I will idle.” And Phil Harris wrote a song “Jelly Bean (He’s a Curb-Side Cutie)” in 1940. In other words, this guy was useless.
The Jelly Bean Shines
The jelly bean won its most enduring acclaim around 1930, as an Easter candy. The reasons are not entirely clear – perhaps because Easter, like other spring-time rituals, is about rebirth, and the bean is an excellent symbol. Regardless, early 20th-century candy makers were busy finding a market at religious events – the striped candy cane (the late 1800s) and the Christmas Ribbon (1925), to name a few.
Then came Jelly Belly. Candy distributor and entrepreneur, David Klein, came up with the name and the concept to infuse the entire bean with flavor. He outsourced production to the Herman Goelitz Candy Company who developed the idea and later bought Klein out. The jelly bean entered a new and illustrious phase of life, making appearances everywhere, from movie theater concession stands to corner store displays. They showed up at Jelly bean-loving president Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration in1981 and were the first candy to go on a space mission in 1983. In fact, people ate enough jelly beans last year to circle the earth five times. (6)
Has the popularity of jelly beans changed the candy? Spoiled it? Given it more cache? Actually, the jelly bean still carries its heritage as a confection beloved by the famous and not-so-famous, crossing cultures and histories, turning up in the most outrageous places, one delicious bite at a time.