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(Adapted from: Susan’s Book: “Sweet as Sin”)

Salt water taffy joined the ranks of caramel, toffee, and other American iconic candies in the late 1800s. But salt water taffy was undoubtedly the strangest all – essentially an American favorite that wasn’t.

The story begins in Atlantic City where taffy-makers John Ross Edmiston, Joseph Fralinger, and Enoch James were busily creating a taffy industry. In those days, boardwalk shops were built right by the sea – a bad idea given the certainty of storms and floods. But no one seemed to notice.

Then one dark night, a storm swept up from the sea, flooding shops along the boardwalk. One belonged to John Ross Edminston, a postcard and taffy merchant. Legend has it, Edminston was cleaning up the next morning when a little girl stopped by asking for taffy. Looking at the taffy floating in the debris, Edminston shook his head and said these immortal words: “I only have ‘salt water’ taffy.” Then, he thought, the name sounds right. So, beach-like and fun. But add salt water? To taffy? Not so right.

So Edminston kept the name but left the salt water out. In other words, his hallmark salt water taffy had no saltwater in it. Never did. Still  doesn’t. But the plot thickens.  So popular was this saltless, salt water taffy that Edminston filed for a trademark on the name. He thought of it. It should be his. In the 1920s, the Federal Government agreed. Clearly emboldened by his victory, Edminston went on to demand millions of dollars in back pay from all who had been using it.

     Ad for Fralingers, 1925

His fellow taffy-makers would have none of it. In fact, two were instrumental in creating the salt water taffy craze in the firstplace.  One was Edminston’s neighbor, Joseph Fralinger,  who put saltwater taffy on beachgoers’ maps with his boundless marketing campaigns. He started as a glassblower, fish merchant, and bricklayer until, in 1884, he took over a taffy concession stand on the boardwalk. Soon, he added favorites like the molasses pulls and his one store became six.

                                      Molasses Pulls – A Taffy Favorite


                                                                                       Old Time Pull Machine, Rockport, MA

Fralinger loved taffy but he didn’t love his neighbor, Enoch James. James started out in the Midwest, then opened a taffy shop in Atlantic City where his two innovations made salt water taffy history. One was bite-size pieces that fit comfortably in the vacationer’s mouth. No more half-eaten gobs of taffy. No more sticky pieces covered with sand.  And what better place to put these self-reliant morsels than in James’ second invention, the festive taffy satchel, still in candy stores today.

Fralinger, James, and most likely other taffy-makers challenged Edminston’s right to the name “salt water taffy.” The case went all the way to the Supreme Court who took their side, making the sea salt-less “salt water taffy” fair game for everyone.

Susan at Taffy Store in Nag’s Head, NC

As for Fralinger and James’ companies? The two remained rivals until they were bought out by another company in the mid-1900s.  Today they join the legends of salt water taffy makers everywhere, sharing one roof.