Nothing says “I Love You” like heart-shaped hunks of chalky sugar – but where did conversation hearts come from? To know where they came from, it helps to know who they came from: NECCO Sweets, purveyor of the love-them-or-hate them NECCO Wafers.
The story begins in the 1840s with a Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase. Chase longed to make his way in the booming lozenge market, which were the treatment du jour for all manner of maladies and discomforts. However, making the things was no easy task, and Chase set himself to finding a better way.
Soon, Chase unveiled his invention, the Chase Lozenge Cutter, which both rolled the dough then pressed it into perfectly round wafers. Unwittingly, Chase had built the first candy-making machine.
For the next two decades, Oliver Chase worked alongside his brothers, Silas and Daniel, making their confectionery treats available to folks across the United States and Canada. Silas and Oliver together would form Chase and Company.
In 1866, Daniel Chase finished work on a machine that would handily press food-dye letters onto his brother’s lozenges, inspired by the new popularity of Valentine’s Day cards.
These “Conversation Candies” were a hit, but it wasn’t until much later – 1902 – that they took their present heart shape.
A look at some early messages make that clear; it’s hard to fit some of the company’s early slogans – things like Married In White You Have Chosen Right, and How Long Shall I Have to Wait? Please Be Considerate on a bite-sized piece of candy.
Today, NECCO’s Sweethearts continues to dominate the market, rolling out its Sweethearts year after year, adding and dropping phrases as they move in and out of the lexicon – they even produce them en Español.
In fact, each year from mid-February (just after the V-Day rush) to the following January (just before) NECCO cranks out a staggering 100,000 pounds of the hearts each day, adding up to billions just in time for the holiday.
And although a few classics are still around – Be Good, Be True and Kiss Me to name a few – NECCO adds and drops new sayings every year, to keep with the times.
1999 saw the introduction of messages like You Go Girl, Yeah Right, Fax Me, Page Me, and No Way.
2005’s messages entered the sporting arena with slogans like #1 Fan, Dream Team, and Be My Hero. Heck, amid 2009’s “Twilight” fever, they ever introduced a line line of the hearts reading Lion and Lamb, Bite Me, Live Forever and I Heart E.C.
Most recently, in 2015, the company introduced a few new sayings including BFF, Te Amo, and Girl Power.