Today, lollipops are typically defined as a hard candy that is eaten off of a stick. Lollipops are available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors, and are enjoyed by people around the world. The history of lollipops, and where their name originally came from, is debated, but the story begins thousands of years ago, perhaps with cavemen.
Eating sugary substances off a stick has been a practice in many civilizations throughout history. It has been speculated that the first instance of this was cavemen collecting and eating honey from beehives with a stick. The next, and slightly more advanced, development in this practice is thought to be during the ancient ages. The Chinese, Arabs, and Egyptians used honey to preserve fruit and nuts. This mixture would be made on a stick to make it easier to eat as it hardened over time. In the middle ages, nobles ate boiled sugar with a stick. At this time, sugar was not produced in large quantities, making it a very expensive and luxurious treat, only accessible to the wealthy. Shortly after the end of the middle ages, this changed as technology improved and sugar cane was grown and produced in bulk.
Records show that in 17th century England, an early version of what we know as the lollipop was sold throughout London by street vendors. These sugary treats were made of soft candy since machines to insert the sticks automatically had not yet been invented. Although these candies were different in texture, and most likely appearance, than modern lollipops, the concept was the same: a delicious, sugary treat that can be eaten without making a mess, and enjoyed by children and adults alike.
The beginning of the 20th century brought about the modern lollipop. There is much debate about who first made hard candies on a stick, where the name lollipop came from, and who was the first to invent a machine to produce them. What we know for sure, is that during the first half of the 1900s, there were a few different people, in factories around the US, that helped shape lollipops as we know them.
In the 1880s, George Smith of New Haven, CT observed a chocolate company who was making chocolates and caramels on sticks. He found this an intriguing idea and decided to apply this technique to his own, hard candy business, Bradley Smith Company. In 1908, Smith named these candies Lolly Pops after a local race horse, and applied for a trademark on the name. It was years before he was granted the trademark as there were records of candies called this name in the past, but in 1931, Lolly Pops officially got their name. The Bradley Smith Company started out making the candies by hand, but in order to meet demand, they created their own patented machine to automate the process. These early lollipops were sold for a penny each.
There are records of another confectionery company in Connecticut, the McAviney Candy Company, also creating a product like the modern lollipop around the same time as the Bradley Smith Company. As the story goes, this happened almost by accident. The employees would use wooden sticks to stir the candy as it cooked, and throughout the day candy would accumulate on the stick. By the end of each day, there would be many left over “candy sticks” which employees would bring home to their children. Soon they started selling these candy sticks to the public.
Also in 1908, the Racine Confectionery Machine Company in Racine, Wisconsin was creating hard candy on a stick. They created the Racine Automatic Sucker Machine which placed hard candies on the ends of sticks. Shortly after in 1912, Samuel Born invented the Born Sucker Machine in California, which automatically inserted sticks into hard candy. This invention was widely celebrated in San Francisco.
No matter who was truly the first to put hard candy on a stick, all of these endeavors helped create the modern lollipop, one of the world’s most popular candies.