Confections are a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States and Utahns currently buy candy at the highest rate in the nation – almost double the US average. It’s been that way for at least a century.
Utahns have long had a sweet tooth. In 1919, Utah had the highest per capita rate of sugar consumption in the United States and boasted nine wholesale candy producers. Among them was the Startup Candy Company, a family business that was one of the largest confectionery makers in the West.
The company got its start when English immigrants William Daw Startup and his wife Hagar opened a small confectionary business in Provo in 1875. William had learned candy-making from his father. And when William died suddenly, leaving Hagar with four young children, she taught their sons about candy.
In 1895, George, Walter, and William Startup revived their parents’ business as the Startup Candy Company. From chocolates to chewing gum, the brothers produced all sorts of sugary delicacies. One specialty was the Magnolia, a tiny hard candy with a liquid center. They also made Clear Toys from hard candy molded in the shapes of animals, trains, and Santas. Their famous Opera Bar – with layers of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry cream – was America's first filled candy bar. Its wrapper proudly bore the tagline: "Provo, Utah, The Candy City."
By 1900 the brothers built a larger factory, upgraded their manufacturing, and incorporated a box plant to make their own fancy wrappers. Along with modem equipment, the company was also ahead of its time in labor practices. During an era when many employers exploited their workers, Startup provided employees with life insurance and profit-sharing bonuses. George Startup even lobbied the Utah Legislature in 1914 for a minimum-wage bill for female workers.
Startup prospered through the 1920s, employing nearly 200 people and wholesaling its products throughout the country and overseas. But people gave up the luxury of candy during the Great Depression, and sugar was nearly impossible to obtain during World War II. Still, the Startup Candy Company traded through hard times and today, continues to feed Utah’s sweet tooth.
Utah State Historical Society © 2017
Image: Startup Candy Kitchen. This picture shows the interior of the Startup Candy Kitchen. Left to Right are Minnie A. Startup Thornburg, Artie Harris Startup, an unknown customer, and Hazel Singleton. 1911. Courtesy of Provo City Library.
See “The Sweet Story of the Startup Candy Company,” History Blazer, Utah State Historical Society, November 1996; Kathy Stephenson, “Mormon Vice? Utahns Buy the Most Candy in the US,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 2015; Brenna Kelly, “Utahns Eat Almost Twice As Much Candy As U.S. Average,” Utah Public Radio, May 15, 2015; Startup Candy Company website.