Before Tootsie Roll Industries started making 64 million miniature chewy chocolates a day, inventor “Leo Hirshfield” sold the hand-wrapped candies at a small Brooklyn store starting Feb. 23. 1896, according to the manufacturer’s website. The Austrian immigrant didn’t have to look far for inspiration on the treat’s name: his 5-year-old daughter Clara was often called “Tootsie.”After distribution started with a horse and buggy, the Candy Hall of Fame says the confectioner (a 2007 inductee) “decided to grow by merging with another local candy manufacturer, Stern & Staalberg,” which went public in 1922 and became known as the Sweets Company of America.
But some scholars say the details of that story may have been fudged, arguing the candy came on the scene a decade later — and that his name should be spelled “Hirschfeld” not “Hirshfield.” Samira Kawash, Professor Emerita at Rutgers University, wrote on her blog “Candy Professor” that the confectioner had been working for Stern & Staalberg all along and had moved to Manhattan to work there in the early 1890s, citing a 1913 Pittsburgh Press interview. A “Leo Hirschfeld” applied for a patent on the unique texture of Tootsie Rolls in 1907 and was awarded one in 1908, and a year later, Stern & Staalberg’s marketing and advertising push for Tootsie Rolls began. So Kawash concludes: “All the patents, trade-marks, and advertising put Tootsie Rolls in motion between 1907 and 1909. As far as I can gather from the evidence, the invention of Tootsie Rolls in 1896 in Hirschfeld’s little Brooklyn candy store is a myth.” Moreover, Tootsie was also the name of the child spokesperson for a gelatin candy that Stern & Staalberg patented, so Kawash believes that the Tootsie Roll may have been “christened” in Clara’s honor, “but first, she did her time as the child spokes-model for fruity gelatin.”