Over the past 120 years, cotton candy has grown from a small town treat into a global phenomenon. It has a special place in our hearts because eating it often brings us back to childhood memories of good times and nostalgia. Cotton candy is a beloved treat found all over America at most state and county fairs, but this article will introduce you to the history of cotton candy. Cotton candy has been putting smiles on people’s faces since the late 1800s and has, over 100 years after its invention, become a staple in American culture.
Cotton candy as we know it was first created in 1897 when a dentist named William Morrison joined forces with a confectioner by the name of John C. Wharton. Together, the duo created a machine that spun heated sugar through a screen, creating the floss-like texture that we all know and love.
How Did Cotton Candy Become Popular?
It would take Morrison and Wharton seven years to share their new product with the general public. Finally, in 1904, Morrison and Wharton became entrepreneurs when they debuted their new sugary treat at the St. Louis World Fair. The fair was meant to be the event of the century. It had its official opening on April 30th and boasted many different attractions including a Ferris wheel and a circus. Over 20 million people visited the fair during its run from April to December, and to Morrison and Wharton’s delight, many of the fair-goers were intrigued by the sugary treat known then as “fairy floss.”
Morrison and Wharton sold boxes of cotton candy for a quarter each to fair-goers. The treat was so popular that, by the end of the fair, over 68,000 boxes of cotton candy were sold. Morrison and Wharton made just over $17,000 from their foray into the world of confectionary. That would be worth just over half a million dollars in today’s economy! Not bad for only working eight months, right?
After selling cotton candy at the St. Louis World Fair, Morrison and Wharton continued their business selling cotton candy to friends and clients in their native Tennessee. Later on, they began to market both the machine and the candy in newspapers such as the New York Times. With an updated, cheaper price of 5 to 10 cents a box, “fairy floss” had taken America by storm. People wanting to make the treat themselves could purchase a hand-made machine directly from the “Electric Candy Company”—the corporation that Morrison and Wharton started in order to bring “fairy floss” to the masses.
How Has Cotton Candy Evolved Over the Years?
When Morrison and Wharton invented their new cotton candy machine, they immediately filed for patent protection of the device. Due to patent law, other people wanting to capitalize on the success of “fairy floss” would have to wait until Morrison and Wharton’s patent ran out or buy a machine directly from the two original inventors. Because of Morrison and Wharton’s patent, “fairy floss” really didn’t change much in the early 1900s: if you made or enjoyed cotton candy, you had to do it using an official machine from Morrison and Wharton. Competitors were only allowed to move into the market in 1921, almost 25 years after the first invention of cotton candy.
New competitors brought new changes to the world of cotton candy. Some of the first changes to the cotton candy industry came in the 1920s after the 17 year patent protection for Morrison and Wharton’s “electric candy machine” finally expired. In 1921, another dentist by the name of Josef Lascaux broke into the cotton candy scene. After Lascaux saw the success of fellow dentist Morrison, Lascaux decided that he also wanted to make the treat for his dental clients. So Lascaux created a cotton candy machine similar in design to Morrison and Wharton’s contraption.
However, in order to avoid association with the original “fairy floss” created by Morrison and Wharton, Lascaux decided to market his version of the treat as “cotton candy.” He thought that the treat looked like the cotton grown in Louisiana, the state he resided in. Cotton candy is almost 70% air, so it makes sense that Lascaux coined the treat after cotton. Cotton is a naturally-grown fluffy fiber that spreads seeds by being blown through the air. Even though Lascaux gets the credit for coming up with the current name of cotton candy, he sadly never made it big in the candy business.
The decade of the 1920s was significant in the history of cotton candy since this was the time that everyone starting calling “fairy floss” by the name we know this treat today: “cotton candy.” A cultural shift had occurred and the name Lascaux coined ended up becoming the permanent name that we all use today (Australia seems to be the only country that held on the original name of “fairy floss”).
Another change to the development of cotton candy came in 1949 with the introduction of the spring-loaded base by a company in Ohio called Gold Medal Products. The original cotton candy machine created by Morrison and Wharton often broke down, but when it was operational, the machine tended to shake and was extremely noisy. The spring-loaded base introduced by Gold Medal Products not only made the rotating part of the machine more stable, but it also increased the reliability of the machine. The spinning components that are essential to making the texture of cotton candy so fluffy broke down less often, which meant that cotton candy production could increase.
The introduction of the spring-loaded base in 1949 was the first of a long list of improvements to the machine itself. The 1970s eventually brought a cotton candy machine that was fully automated: not only could this new machine create cotton candy on its own but it also could even bag the treat without human help. Since the 1970s, cotton candy machines now come in all sizes. The biggest machine size can currently hold up to three pounds of cotton candy sugar at once! Some of the smallest cotton candy machines can easily fit on your kitchen counter as a fun way to impress dinner guests after a party
What Are Some New Developments in the Cotton Candy Industry?
It is a testament to the simple goodness of cotton candy that, in reality, the cotton candy we know and love today hasn’t changed all that much from the original “fairy floss” first invented in the 1890s. The current machine design we use is still incredibly similar to Morrison and Wharton’s “electric candy machine.” However, one of the biggest differences between the cotton candy we eat today and the cotton candy of the past is a difference in flavor.
Changing preferences in taste has led to the adaptation of cotton candy flavoring over time. The first cotton candy sold at the St. Louis World Fair was not flavored at all and was plain white in color. For many decades since then, cotton candy was traditionally only pink and blue. However, cotton candy has since branched out. Today, cotton candy is made in flavors ranging from dill pickle that is green in color to a gingerbread flavor that is bright purple. And of course, here at Spun Paradise, we specialize various unique flavors for every palate.
Another way that cotton candy has evolved is its inclusion in so-called “mash-up desserts.” Over the years, people have started to use cotton candy as the basis for different, inventive treats. When a Las Vegas shop called Creamberry decided to roll up ice cream and sprinkles in a cotton candy shell, 2018 became the year of the American cotton candy burrito. However, other delicacies like cotton candy marshmallows, cotton candy pancakes, and even cotton candy pizza exist. With such a large variety already in place, who knows what the next creative cotton candy invention will be!
However you enjoy your cotton candy, you can be assured that the concept of cotton candy is here to stay. Since its invention over a hundred years ago, cotton candy has grown from the small-town “fairy floss” treat of a two-man company to a cultural phenomenon. From Tokyo, Japan to Madrid, Spain, you can find cotton candy almost anywhere in the world.
Who Invented Cotton Candy? Cotton candy as we know it was first created in 1897 when a dentist named William Morrison joined forces with a confectioner by the name of John C. Wharton. Together, the duo created a machine that spun heated sugar through a screen, creating the floss-like texture that we all know and love.
How Did Cotton Candy Get It’s Name? In 1921, another dentist by the name of Josef Lascaux broke into the cotton candy scene. However, in order to avoid association with the original “fairy floss” created by Morrison and Wharton, Lascaux decided to market his version of the treat as “cotton candy.” He thought that the treat looked like the cotton grown in Louisiana, the state he resided in.