Candy Land

When we were the capital of sweetness

candyPhoto: Cambridge Historical Society

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Once upon a time, Cambridge was the capital of candy. The city was a major industrial center for more than 100 years, and one of the largest industries was candymaking. In 1910 there were 16 confectionary manufacturers listed in the city, by 1920 the number was 30, and by 1930 there were more than 40. At the peak of the business in 1946, there were 66 candy-manufacturing companies listed in the city directory.

Many of these companies were consolidated by into two: Daggett Chocolates and New England Confectionary Company, or NECCO. While NECCO has survived and continues to make valentine hearts, NECCO wafers, Clark bars, Sky bars, and other sweets, fewer people remember Daggett’s.

Obscure though it may be now, Daggett Chocolates was once a huge company, producing more than 40 brands of chocolates. It took up a city block in Kendall Square, where it produced not only candy, but also the boxes the candy came in. The factory had three separate unions: one for the confectionary workers, one for the box makers, and one for the printers. It even owned its own strawberry farm outside of Norfolk, Virginia. Daggett’s employed more than 600 people at its peak, and made more than 10 million pounds of candy per year.

The Cambridge Historical Society was recently visited by two granddaughters of the founder of Daggett’s—one of whom is named Candy. They had moved to Louisiana as small children but stayed in contact with their grandfather. They remember visiting the factory and pulling peppermints off the conveyor belt. They also recall their father visiting Cambridge every year and returning to Louisiana with boxes of candy. One year for Easter they were both sent chocolate Easter bunnies that were as big as they were.

In the late 1950s, their grandfather, Fred L. Daggett, the founder of Daggett Chocolates, died. The company survived for a few years, but closed in the early 1960s. The equipment and the recipes were sold to NECCO and the building was sold to MIT.

This came at a time when many manufacturing companies were moving out of the Northeast. In the 1960s and ’70s, much of the industrial core of Cambridge was left vacant or underused. Block after block of Kendall Square was bought and cleared by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, making way for a planned NASA facility. NASA ended up pulling out of the project, and only one of the four towers that were planned as part of it was built. (It houses the offices of the Department of Transportation.) But as other technology companies arrived, most of the factory buildings were cleared away.

Today, almost all traces of the once-robust Cambridge candy industry in Cambridge are gone. Tootsie Rolls and Junior Mints are still made on Main Street, but there is no other confectionary manufacturing left, and many of the candy factories buildings have been demolished. However, there are a few still standing if you know where to look. The Squirrel Nut Company factory is now condos on Broadway, the NECCO plant is now the R&D headquarters of the pharmaceutical company Novartis on Mass. Ave., and the Daggett Chocolate factory was one of the few buildings that survived the redevelopment of Kendall Square. Owned by MIT, it is still standing at 400 Main St.

Gavin Kleespies is executive director of the Cambridge Historical Society.

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