8 Things You Didn't Know About Conversation Hearts
The iconic Valentine’s Day candies didn’t start out as hearts.
Quite possibly one of America’s most divisive candies, most people can agree that the best thing about conversation hearts — made of corn syrup, sugar, gelatin and food coloring — isn’t the taste, but their playful nostalgia. Yet, surprisingly to some, conversation hearts go back way further than grade school and secret admirers. The treats’ history actually dates to 1847 when Boston pharmacist Oliver Chase invented a device to make apothecary lozenges more easily. Often referred to as America’s first candy-making machine, his lozenge cutter was soon used exclusively for candy after Chase founded the New England Confectionery Company (later known as NECCO). Then, in 1866, conversation hearts were officially born once his brother, Daniel Chase, discovered a way to stamp words directly onto the candies with red vegetable dye.
Today, the seasonal novelty has been around for over 150 years, with many conversation heart brands on the market, including Sweethearts, SweeTarts and Brach's. Here, learn more about the history of the holiday classic in time for Valentine's Day.
Chase’s original, disc-shaped lozenges were decorated with much longer and more formal phrases like “HOW LONG SHALL I HAVE TO WAIT? PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE” and “WHY IS A STYLISH GIRL LIKE YOU A THRIFTY HOUSEKEEPER?” (The answer, on the other side: “BECAUSE SHE MAKES A BIG BUSTLE ABOUT A LITTLE WAIST.”)
The candies also became popular at weddings as a novelty way of offering relationship advice such as, “Married in White, you have chosen right” or “Married in Pink, he’ll take to drink.”
Over time, these bigger lozenges shrank into fun shapes like horseshoes, baseballs and shells. By the early 1900s, small hearts established their rightful place as the number one style.
More than eight billion Sweetheart candies are sold in the six weeks leading up to Valentine's Day. In order to make enough, production begins almost a year in advance, in late February, and continues until mid-January.
Sweethearts make up roughly 40 percent of the Valentine’s Day candy market. The top seller? Chocolate.
Certain phrases have stuck around since the beginning of the brand, including “Be Mine,” “Kiss Me” and “Be True.” In 2010, NECCO asked the public to suggest new sayings. It received more than 10,000 submissions with “TWEET ME,” “TEXT ME” and “LOVE BUG” ranking as the top three.
Another source of inspiration? Hollywood. Sweethearts once collaborated with an unlikely partner, the Twilight movie franchise, to print candies with themed sayings like “BITE ME” and “LIVE 4 EVER.”
When NECCO went out of business in 2018, it wasn’t clear if Sweethearts would survive. Fortunately, Spangler saved the brand — but the candies weren’t ready in time for 2019. Then, in 2020, production issues meant that many Sweethearts had to be shipped without their beloved messages for the first time in history.
Luckily, in 2022, our candy hearts will be donning much needed ‘words of encouragement.’