How Dandy Was Candy? Exploring Messages in Candy and Chocolate Advertisements

This post was written by Tom Bober, the Library of Congress 2015-16 Audio-Visual Teacher in Residence.

If you read the following descriptions to your students, what would they think was being described?

 “Wholesome as bread and butter.

They are delicious and really nutritious.

Men who lead active lives are coming to know the nourishing and substantial power of [the product] as a regular article of diet.

They are as pure and wholesome as they are delicious.

It’s wholesome and nutritious. If you don’t believe us ask your doctor.

“The Milkiest Milk Chocolate,” Evening public ledger., September 25, 1919

They probably would not guess that all of the descriptions are advertisements for candy and chocolate. Valentine’s Day may be the perfect time to sink your teeth into advertising messages by studying ads about candy and sweets from historic newspapers in Chronicling America.

A line in an 1899 advertisement reads, “A lover’s most effectual weapon is candy – pure, wholesome candy- sent regularly to the adored one.” It speaks to the role of candy as a gift for our loved ones, but in terms that we might not use today, as pure and wholesome. In fact, many advertisements at the time referred to candy, chocolates, or sweets using words like pure, wholesome, clean, and nutritious.

“After Every Meal Eat Candy,” The public ledger., November 07, 1922

Students can explore the advertisements in several ways:

  • Advertisements typically appear to inform the reader, but actually encourage the reader to have an emotional reaction. What might the reader think and feel after reading these advertisements? What words or images support that?
  • Ask students if the food being compared to chocolate in the advertisements fits their criteria for being wholesome and nutritious. What does that tell the reader about what the advertiser wants them to think about the nutritional value of the chocolate?
  • Who are these advertisements meant for? How are men, women, and children represented in the text and images?
  • What might these advertisements tell us about sweets or even food in general at the time? Students can search for more information by pairing the word pure, wholesome, clean, or nutritious with the word candy, sweets, or chocolate in Chronicling America.

If you or your students decide to indulge in candy or chocolate and you feel a bit unhealthy, think about the wholesome and nutritious message you would have received a century ago.

3 Comments

  1. Mary
    February 2, 2016 at 11:34 am

    This is so, so interesting. And the perfect ammunition to carry to my doctor to lobby for increased chocolate cake consumption–not only will I get the health benefits of dairy (albeit less than “a tumblerful of sweet, creamy milk”), but also whole grains and eggs that are delicious and really nutritious!

  2. Alyssa Molina
    February 2, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post! It has led me to an idea for a lesson on word choice to enhance student writing.

  3. Shannon Sachs
    February 8, 2016 at 11:44 am

    Upon reading the advertising headlines above, I know that my students and I would think they are advertising fruits, vegetables, granola bars, etc.Once I reveal these slogans are for candy, it would be a very interesting class discussion. I would also have the students create their own candy and poster advertisement..

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