Every child knows the story. Baby Ruth candy bars were not named after Babe Ruth, baseball’s Sultan of Swat. The Curtiss Candy Company dubbed its confection Baby Ruth in honor of the daughter of President Grover Cleveland.
Wrong! That’s a myth. It’s World Series time, so we’re thinking baseball. Halloween is coming, so we’re thinking candy bars. Let’s tell the rest of the story.
Babe Ruth’s Rise to Fame and Breakout Year of 1920
As every Boston baseball fan knows, George Herman Ruth began his career as a pitcher for the Red Sox. He was too good a hitter to keep out of the lineup, so he did a lot of pinch hitting, too. In 1919, his sixth and final year with Boston, he hit 29 home runs, up from 11 in 1918. Then came Harry Frazee’s detested sale of the Babe to the Yankees. In 1920, Ruth hit 54 home runs in the media capital of the world. The following year, he whacked 59 of them. He became the biggest celebrity in sport.
In that year of 1920, Curtiss renamed its Kandy Kake confection “Baby Ruth.” After the product relaunch, company founder Otto Schnering tried to get Ruth to endorse the Baby Ruth bar. Ruth refused. Instead, in 1926, the George H. Ruth Candy Company tried to register with the United States Patent and Trademark Office its own trademark confection: “Ruth’s Home Run Bar” and “Babe Ruth’s Own Candy.”
Here Come the Lawyers
The commissioner of patents turned Babe down, ruling that “Babe” was too close to “Baby,” particularly as it related to “Ruth.” The Court of Customs and Patent Appeals upheld that ruling in 1931, saying that there would be confusion if “Babe” and “Baby” competed for the same sweet-tooth market. The court said it was evident that George Herman Ruth was trying to capitalize on his own nickname, at a time when sales of Baby Ruths were as high as $1 million a month.
Schnering had also sued Ruth’s company for trademark infringement. Ruth, of course, accused Schnering of using his name. Schnering professed to be shocked, shocked, at such an accusation. Why, his candy was named after “Baby” Ruth Cleveland, Grover’s daughter. The little girl, he maintained, had once visited his company.
Plausible testimony? Grover Cleveland had not been president for 24 years at the time the candy bar hit the market. Ruth Cleveland had died in 1904, at the age of 12, and Grover passed away in 1908. The candy bar didn’t appear until 12 years later.
The candy maker steadfastly maintained that it was just a coincidence when it renamed Kandy Kake “Baby Ruth” in the very year that George Herman Ruth exploded onto the national scene with his baseball heroics. Schnering also declared that Babe Ruth wasn’t even famous – another whopper – so why would he possibly want to associated his candy bar with the Babe.
Baby Ruth Cleveland indeed! But the courts believed the company – or they ruled in its favor anyway. Ruth never collected a penny in royalties. All he could say, in closing, was “Well, I ain’t eatin’ your damned candy bar anymore!”
The Story Doesn’t End
In 1923, Schnering hired a pilot to fly his plane over Pittsburgh and drop several thousand Baby Ruth candy bars over the city. Each candy bar was equipped with a parachute to avoid injuring people.
The Curtiss Candy Company’s headquarters was close to Wrigley Field. In 1932, they set up a giant lighted Baby Ruth sign near the spot where Babe Ruth’s supposed “called shot” home run landed. This advertising of the candy bars remained there for four years.
Babe Ruth’s Home Run Bar is long gone, but Baby Ruth has survived and prospered. Nestle now owns the Baby Ruth candy bar. It obtained the right to use Babe Ruth’s name and likeness from CMG Worldwide, which represents Ruth’s estate. Nestle can use the famed ballplayer in Baby Ruth marketing campaigns. In 2006, Baby Ruth became “the official candy bar of Major League Baseball.”
The Story Behind Other Candy Names
The November 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine recounts this tale. It also tells how several other popular confections were named. Samples:
Mr. Goodbar got its name in 1925 when a taster at the Hershey Company said “That’s a good bar.” Milton Hershey didn’t hear him correctly, but thought that “Mr. Goodbar” was a good name for the new candy. Milton, not surprisingly, got his way.
Charleston Chew was introduced in 1922, when the Charleston was a popular dance. Even I remember watching people doing the Charleston on our black-and-white television – which had two channels, Four and Seven, along with the educational Channel Two.
Junior Mints is a play on the 1940s stage production Junior Miss.
Tootsie Roll is named for the daughter of Leo Hirschfeld, the candy’s creator.
Kit Kat debuted in 1935 as Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp. The name changed in 1937 to ride along on the reputation of the Kit Kat Club, a swingin’ British men’s club of the 18th Century.
3 Musketeers wasn’t always a chocolate bar. At its 1932 introduction, it consisted of three separate pieces – chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry – hence the name.
Snickers was named for the favorite horse of the bar’s inventor, Frank Mars.
Milky Way’s name had nothing to do with astronomy. Its name comes from a malted milkshake of the 1920s.
….and now you know the rest of the story!