(Look Back is an occasional series with content and images from the Atlantic County Historical Society.)
Legend has it that saltwater taffy — that soft, chewy confection that has become a popular treat and souvenir gift from the Jersey Shore — was created by accident. Its popularity has grown so that if Atlantic City is said to export anything besides happy memories and sunburn, saltwater taffy would head the list.
The story says the candy stand of David Bradley, located on the Atlantic City beach, was flooded in 1883 by a high tide. The salt water completely soaked his stock. When a young girl came in to buy the taffy, the candy maker/vendor jokingly called it "saltwater taffy," thus turning a catastrophe into an advertising slogan. A star was born!
Although the taffy, which is available in a variety of flavors, does contain salt (as does most candy), there is no salt water in saltwater taffy. Once produced by more than 400 candy makers, the taffy's top three makers, Fralinger's, James and Tripician's, were based in Atlantic City.
About 1940, at the height of the taffy's popularity, visitors mailed more than three millions pounds to friends and family in one season. This figure didn't include the on-the-spot consumption.
In June 1985, Fralinger's Original Salt Water Taffy celebrated its 100th anniversary with a special taffy pull on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. More than 250 people carefully stretched out the pliable candy to produce the longest, single piece of taffy ever created — at 500 feet, 10 inches, a world record was enshrined in the Guinness book.
Incidentally, any one can use the name "saltwater taffy." No one ever thought to copyright it.
Founded in 1913, the Atlantic County Historical Society has been preserving historical materials in its library and museum since. Every week, Wednesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., it opens its doors to share these collections with anyone who is interested. The society building is located at 907 Shore Rd. in Somers Point. More information is available at www.atlanticcountyhistoricalsocietynj.org and on Facebook, or by calling 609-927-5218.