In 1847, a Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase invented a machine that made it easier to produce lozenges, a popular product made from mixing medicine with sugar paste. Chase soon began to use his machine to make candy instead of medicinal lozenges, and the company he founded for his new line of work would eventually become Necco. In 1866, Oliver Chase’s brother, Daniel, figured out how to press words onto the candies with a felt roller pad and red vegetable coloring. The result was “conversation candies” or “motto lozenges.” It’s unclear exactly where the idea came from – legends have the Chase brothers drawing inspiration from everything from Valentine’s Day cards to cockles, shell-shaped candies with mottos printed on rolled-up papers.
Originally, the phrases the Chase brothers printed were quite long, with early candies carrying messages such as, “HOW LONG SHALL I HAVE TO WAIT? PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE.” Eventually, they were shortened to the types of phrases we are familiar with today, such as “BE MINE” and “KISS ME.” Interestingly, the candies weren’t heart-shaped until 1902, when the company moved from producing simple discs to fun shapes like hearts, baseballs, horseshoes, and watches. The heart shape really stuck! Today, candy hearts are popular around Valentine’s Day and Necco is currently the largest producer of conversation hearts, creating about 8 billion candy hearts each year.