Why is it Called a “Tootsie Roll”? Leo Hirschfield Makes Candy History

Jerry Anderson   December 13, 2015   Comments Off on Why is it Called a “Tootsie Roll”? Leo Hirschfield Makes Candy History

The “Tootsie Roll” is 119 years old this year (2015). Who invented it? How did it get its name? The story goes something like this. Leo Hirschfeld (other sources spell his name Hirschfield) was an Austrian immigrant who came to the United States in 1884, arriving in New York City with very little money and a set of skills that set him apart from many other immigrants: he was a candy maker. His father had been a confectioner in Austria so Leo landed in America with some family recipes and a desire to be a success.

A picture of Leo Hirschfeld later in life.

He settled in Brooklyn, opened up a tiny candy shop, and proceeded to make a living for himself. His candy shop did not sell much chocolate, if any, because it was still quite expensive and available only to those who could afford it. Leo’s shop specialized in hard candies and penny candies of all sorts, catering to the tastes and budgets of neighboring children and their families.

A recreation of an old “penny candy” display.

During the ensuing years he got married and began raising a family. In 1891 his favorite child was born, a daughter named Clara. As Clara grew up she began to realize how fortunate (insert “cool,” “neat” or any other word you wish here) she was to have a dad who was a candy maker. So in 1895-1896, the following scenario played out many times as Leo Hirschfeld walked down the street toward his home after a day of work at his candy shop.


1890’s Brooklyn candy shop.

 Clara would wait for him, and when she saw him coming down the street she would run toward him, jump into his arms and say, “Daddy, Daddy, make me some candy!” His skills made it easy for him to say yes to Clara’s request. He would go into the kitchen of his home and gather whatever was available (sugar, cocoa, butter, milk, molasses, etc…) and cook up a concoction that he would pour in small coin-sized dabs onto a baking sheet to cool. When it had hardened he would pry these candies off the baking sheet and give them to Clara. She was thrilled. Children are not good at keeping a fact like this secret. Soon, Clara’s neighborhood friends would also gather to await the arrival of Mr. Hirschfeld so that they could sample some of the candy he would make for his daughter.
In 1896 it finally occurred to him that if the neighborhood children loved this candy so much he should consider selling it at his candy shop. At work he experimented with the recipe, came up with a version of the product he wanted to produce (a chewy chocolate candy with an oblong, roll shape) and planned to market it as the first piece of wrapped penny candy in the U.S. But a wrapper begs the question of a name for the product. What would he call this new confectionary invention? He tried a number of names but none seemed satisfactory. Then, one day, while engaged in a bout of reverie and daydreaming he remembered the scene of him walking down the street toward his house and his daughter Clara running up to him, jumping into his arms, and saying, “Daddy, Daddy, make me some candy!” And he heard in his mind the words he always used to reply to this request: “Yes my little Tootsie I will make you some candy.” The name was fixed and he soon began to sell it at his small candy shop.

This is what the wrapper of a Tootsie Roll looked like between 1900-1910.

t quickly became a customer favorite and his store quickly grew into a thriving candy business. His product was very popular because it was chocolate in a form that would not easily melt and so could be handled and eaten even in the summertime with a minimum of inconvenience. By 1917 the “Tootsie Roll” had become a nationally-known brand of candy and Hirschfeld had moved his operations/business into a large factory in New York City and called it the “Sweets Company of America.” 


Leo Hirschfeld moved from a small Brooklyn candy store to this factory by the 1900s.

During WW I (1914-1918) he developed an artificial chocolate flavoring and made Tootsie Rolls of ingredients that were not on the ration list. This helped keep the Tootsie Roll in the public eye during difficult times. It also enhanced the previously mentioned potential to eat this chocolate treat easily in hot weather. The business continued to prosper and eventually became the multi-billion dollar international company “Tootsie Roll Industries.” 

Associating a product with the heroic soldiers returning from WWI was smart advertising.




Today, Tootsie Roll Industries produces approximately 64 million Tootsie Rolls per day, most of them at their main manufacturing plant in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1931, during the Depression, the company introduced “Tootsie Pops.” We know them today as “Tootsie Roll Pops.” They are the world’s best-selling “lollipop.” (Some candy historians would object to classifying the Tootsie Roll Pop as a “lollipop.” But, that is another story.)

Early 1950s Tootsie Roll Pop commercial.

Tootsie Rolls were very popular during the Depression because they remained an inexpensive chocolate treat that even poor families could afford to give their children to enjoy.

Tootsie Rolls were included in the ration packs of American soldiers during the Korean War. This helped popularize the candy even more after the conflict was concluded.

The Tootsie Roll began advertising on TV during the 1950s.

1970s Tootsie Roll TV commercial.

In 2009 Tootsie Rolls were certified as a kosher food product by the Orthodox Union.

Tootsie Roll Industries has sales of nearly $500 million per year and is recognized as one of the world’s largest candy producers.

Tootsie Roll International has a record of replying to all letters sent to it by children.

During the 1970s Tootsie Roll Pops got a commercial boost because of a hit TV show, “Kojak.” The main character, Detective Kojak, unwrapped and ate a Tootsie Roll Pop whenever he solved a crime

Kojak and his signature Tootsie Roll Pop.


In 1970, in a TV ad, the question, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?” was first asked. The animated character of Mr. Owl asked this still pondered question. Is there an answer? (More on this later.)

Tootsie Roll Industries produces 22 of the most popular candies in the U.S., including (besides Tootsie Rolls) Andes Mints, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Babies, Razzles, Junior Mints, Dubble Bubble Bubble Gum, DOTS, Blow Pops, and the Charleston Chew Candy Bar.

1969 (1970?) TV commercial that asks THE question.


How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? According to my research, I have uncovered numbers ranging anywhere from 144 to 1277 licks as necessary to accomplish the feat. Variables include whether the person is licking in one spot or spinning the pop, the amount of saliva in the mouth, the time/duration of the lick, the texture of the individual tongue, the pressure exerted during the lick, the temperature of the pop itself,… as the above commercial suggests,the world may never know.

Mr. Owl, who first posed the question of how many licks…?


During the mid-1930s a man named Philip Silverstein created a new candy, square shaped, that included Brazil nuts, cashews and raisins. He named it after his nickname for his daughter,  who was at the time a “Chunky” baby. Thus, the “Chunky Bar” was born. That’s what these two candies have in common. They were each named after the nickname each man had for his daughter.

Following is a TV commercial for the Chunky Bar. Enjoy a bit of nostalgia. 
The word “tootsie” is a variation of the word “toots” which means  sweetheart or darling. The word is of obscure origin. Does that word have anything to do with the Tootsie Roll? I wonder? Enjoy these last few video clips as this story is brought to an end.
 “Tootsie” trailer. Just for fun!
Video of a “zumba” class using the song by “69 Boyz” called “Tootsee Roll.” The class
incorporates many steps and moves from what is called “The Tootsie Roll Dance.” For a more explicit version of the “Tootsee Roll Dance” I refer you to the “69 boys – Tootsee Roll” video on You Tube.