How Sweet It Is: The History of Sweetest Day

The Defiance Candy Company in Defiance, Ohio, ca. 1911. Courtesy of Defiance Public Library. Via Ohio Memory.

Although Sweetest Day is sometimes perceived as a second Valentine’s Day or a marketing gimmick to sell candy and greeting cards, this unofficial holiday with Cleveland roots was actually created to promote philanthropy and kindness (and candy).

The Zint Candy Kitchen in Wapakoneta, Ohio, ca. 1908. Via Ohio Memory.

In 1916 the National Confectioners Association created “Candy Day,” described as “The Sweetest Day in the Year.” Despite a tepid public response, plans for a second Candy Day in 1917 were well under way until the U.S. Food Administration (led by future president Herbert Hoover) pointed out that the holiday ran contrary to government efforts to conserve sugar during World War I. The celebration was quickly cancelled.

By 1921 Candy Day was a thing of the past, until a Cleveland advertising executive named Herbert Birch Kingston reinvented the day as a time to be kind and give treats to others. Eight Cleveland-area candy makers formed the “Sweetest Day in the Year” committee, and Sweetest Day was born.

A short article about the “Sweetest Day of the Year” in the October 3, 1921, issue of the Daily Journal-Herald, Delaware, Ohio. Courtesy of Delaware Historical Society. Via Ohio Memory.

That first Sweetest Day was celebrated on October 8, 1921. The October 2, 1921, issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer included a four-page special section with article headlines such as “Climate Rules Sweets Taste,” “Animals Crave All Sweetmeats,” and “Makers of Candy Also Have Hobbies.” Silent film stars Theda Bara and Ann Pennington arrived in Cleveland to pass out treats at local theaters, and 10,000 boxes of candy were distributed to local orphanages, senior citizen homes, and other charitable organizations.

After the huge success of the first Sweetest Day, the holiday continued. Today it’s celebrated on the third Saturday in October, primarily in the Great Lakes region. This year, let’s take some inspiration from the 1922 Sweetest Day section in the Plain Dealer, which encouraged readers to “steal enough time from the turmoil of routine affairs to bring a bit of good cheer to those you love.”

Thank you to Stephanie Michaels, Research and Catalog Services Librarian at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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