It all started in 1876, the year America celebrated its 100th birthday, General Custer ran into trouble at the Little Big Horn and Alexander Graham Bell made his famous telephone call to Mr. Watson. In St. Louis, Missouri, Mr. Busch was brewing his first batch of beer.
Meanwhile, across the state in the busy river town of St. Joseph, Dr. George Washington Chase faced a dilemma. In those days, it was difficult raising a family on a doctor’s meager wages. Drawing upon his previous experiences while growing up back East, Chase decided to open a fruit and produce business.
His teenage son, Ernest, persuaded him to hire two expert candy-makers. The idea was to set up a candy factory on the second floor of the store. The idea worked and before long the demand for Chase’s fine confections forced the family to devote all of their talents to candy-making. Over the years, Chase became known throughout the Midwest for its fine quality peanut candies and hand-dipped chocolates.
Around 1918, Chase formulated what was to become the best-selling cherry candy bar in the country, Cherry Mash. The candy consisted of a quarter-pound mound of chopped roasted peanuts blended with chocolate coating over a smooth cherry fondant center. Interestingly, the candy was called Cherry Chase then Cherry Chaser before becoming the Cherry Mash we know today. Cherry Mash is the third-oldest candy bar in the U.S.
The candy-making business prospered and in the early 1920s, Chase built a modern four-story factory in downtown St. Joseph. About this time, the third generation of the Chase family, Charles, joined the family business. By 1926, after 50 years in business, Chase had made more than 500 different kinds of candies, including an extensive line of candy bars. Among the best sellers were: Pierce Arrow, Tween Meals, Malted Milk, Mallo Milk, Double Brunch, Black Walnut, ChaseNut and the ever-present favorite, Cherry Mash.
Not every candy bar was a hit. Some that weren't best sellers: Real Stuff, Opera Stick, Lulu Bar, Cherry Rummy, Mammy’s Pride, Candy Dogs and the thankfully short-lived Mint Barber Pole! Chase’s famous mascot, the "Candy Cop," was prominently featured on most of the candy bar wrappers.
The Depression years of the 1930s hit the candy business especially hard. If you had any money, you spent it on food for your stomach, not for your sweet tooth. Chase Candy Company experienced a huge decrease in sales and profits and an extensive cut back in the number of candies it produced.
By the early 1940s, sales and profits had recovered to the point that the Chase Candy Company became an attractive investment for the Chicago-based F.S. Yantis and Company, which purchased Chase Candy in 1944 for more than $1 million. For the first time in almost 70 years, no Chase family member was associated with the candy company. The Yantis family still owns and operates the Chase Candy Company today.
With the Yantis purchase, Chase began a series of acquisitions that, within a few years, made it one of the giants of the confectionery industry. National, O’Brien, Shotwell and the Nutrene Candy companies were all purchased and consolidated under the Chase banner.
In 1954, Chase made its biggest move by acquiring Bunte Brothers Candy Company. Bunte had a fine reputation for making hard candy, particularly fruit-filled hard candy known as Diana Stuft Confections. Bunte is also credited with making the first chocolate covered candy bar, the Tangos, around 1914.
A number of confectioners who later made names for themselves got their start at Bunte. They included George Williamson of "Oh Henry" fame, Emil Brach, as in "E. J. Brach," and J. R. Holloway, the father of "Milk Duds."
After the purchase, the company became known as Bunte-Chase and all production was consolidated in a huge plant in Chicago. By the end of the decade, sales had grown to more than $14 million.
Despite the success, Chase had overextended itself with the Bunte purchase. The Chicago plant was closed in 1961 and Chase and Cherry Mash returned to St. Joseph. Chase then purchased the Poe Candy Company, which had been started by a former Chase employee. Poe is still known for its fine “HomeStyle” quality coconut and peanut candies, cooked in copper kettles.
Today the company continues to operate in St. Joseph where it originally started making candy 135 years ago. The company functions out of a new, purpose-built candy factory that opened in 2005. The Yantis family continues to operate Chase Candy and has invested in a number of new technologies over the years to stay relevant with advances in production, as well as sales and marketing.
Cherry Mash remains the Chase Candy Company’s best-selling product and the best-selling cherry candy bar in the country. Like most things good, it can sometimes be a little hard to get. Look for it across the Midwest at groceries, gas stations, convenience stores and mass merchandise outlets or at specialty candy stores in other parts of the world. Use our Cherry Map It! tool to find Cherry Mash near you, or order yours online now.
For more nostalgic candy treats, view our classic candy image gallery.