A Sweet Story

by Jenny McGlone
Chapel Hill, NC, United States

Known in the United States as Valentine’s Day, this holiday is celebrated around the world with unique traditions.

  • Norway — women receive anonymous love poems called Gaekkebrev, names of secret admirers are coded in dots
  • Wales — men present intricately carved wooden spoons to their loved ones
  • Japan — type of chocolate signifies the intimacy of the relationship

Gifts of candy are also prominent in the U.S., with one particular type forming an important part of the history of the holiday — the Sweetheart conversation heart.

Sweet Beginnings

During the 1860s, a pair of brothers in Massachusetts began experimenting with stamping letters on lozenge-shaped candy. The sweet candy was made from a simple formula of mostly sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin. Using vegetable dyes, the Chase brothers were able to produce lengthy sayings such as Married in white,                               you have chosen right. People found them quite entertaining.

Founding a Factory

The success of this venture allowed the Chase brothers to launch a profitable candy-making business. In 1927, NECCO (New England Confectionary Company) opened the largest facility in the world dedicated to the production of sweets. Located at 284 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, this factory was built with several state-of-the-art features. For example, constructed of concrete instead of steel, the floors are between 9 and 14 inches thick. Machinery placing 250 pounds of pressure per square foot can be loaded onto these slabs and run without creating vibrations.

Stocking Supplies of Sweethearts

NECCO needed to work all year long to meet the demand for Sweethearts during the Valentine season. Its factory operated at peak capacity from late February of each year to mid January of the next, producing 100,000 pounds of Sweethearts each day. The 8 billion total yield sold out in just six weeks.

In the early 1990s, the company began an initiative to update the sayings, retiring some and adding others. Be Mine and Kiss Me are two of the originals still in rotation, but more modern options include www.cupid and You Rock. NECCO’s efforts to stay current while retaining the popularity of their product have allowed them to post profits in excess of $100 million.

Despite these earnings, in 2018 NECCO went into bankruptcy. The company sold the Sweathearts recipe to Spangler Candy in Ohio. Spangler has begun producing them in limited quantities for Valentine’s Day 2020. If you have trouble purchasing them in your local store, close your eyes and perhaps you can find them in your sweet dreams!

Have a change to suggest for this story? We’d love for you to submit it!

Math Questions

  1. Weigh several cups of hearts. Determine the weight and number of hearts of each weighing. Now make an estimate of the number of hearts NECCO made each year.
  2. If the NECCO building is 5 stories tall, make an estimate of the total height of the building.

Write your own math question and submit it here

Extension Questions

  1. Do you think Valentines Day is a day that celebrates ALL loving relationships between two people?
  2. Who might be left out of this celebration?

Write your own extension question and submit it here


  1. News story on the lack of Sweethearts in 2019
  2. Fun facts about conversation hearts
  3. Another history article about conversation hearts
  4. Graphing activity for elementary students
  5. Measuring activity for elementary students

Find a resource you think is helpful and submit it here

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