Conversation Hearts, also known as Sweet Hearts, remains one of the most popular Valentine’s Day candies over 100 years after the modern day heart candy was introduced to the market. Each year over 8 billion hearts are produced to be sold within the six weeks preceding Valentine’s Day. Over 100,000 pounds of hearts need to be produced per day, 11 months out of the year to meet the demand for these sweet treats made by the New England Confectionary Company, otherwise known as the NECCO candy company, famous for their circular wafers sold in a wax paper roll. But just how did our favorite Valentine’s Day candy come to be and who thought of writing love messages that can be eaten?
Early American colonists would often write love notes on their candies but the idea of conversation hearts didn’t come about until years later. In 1847, New Englander, Oliver Chase invented a candy cutting machine that first cut peppermint lozenges into scallop or cockle shell shapes. The lozenges proved to be popular and Chase then partnered with his brother Silas Evan and together they formed the Chase Candy Company. They started to put love messages on paper and wrap them with the lozenges. The messages such as, “Please include a lock of your hair in return mail” were rather long, much longer than the simple messages of today. Gradually the love messages were printed on the wrappers themselves.
In 1866 a third brother, Daniel Chase, started inventing a way to inscribe messages directly on the candies but until he perfected his invention the messages included with Sweet Heart candies were still rather long and at first the candies were made quite large to fit the entire message on the candies. Candies were shaped like baseballs, postcards and horseshoes. It wasn’t until 1900 when the Chase Candy Company merged with two other candy companies and formed the New England Confectionary Company that messages were shortened and the tiny candy hearts that we know today were developed.
The hearts still taste the same and come in two sizes, inch hearts and inch hearts, but the messages inscribed on the candies change every few years. “Be Mine” and “I Luv U” still remain popular after all these years but during the corporate world craze of the 80’s and 90’s messages like “Fax Me” were added. In 2008/09 the latest most popular saying was “Chill Out”. The NEECO Company receives thousands of suggestions for new messages every year. The next time the NEECO Company adds a new saying, it might just be “Text Me” or “BFF”.