The Story Our Most Beloved Cotton Candy
Image Credit: Pixabay

The history of cotton candy can be traced to the Italian Renaissance, when chefs melted sugar and spun it. This process included pulling the candy into thin strands using forks and wrapping it around broom handles. The hand-spun candies were labour-intensive and expensive to produce. But cotton candy as we know it today wasn’t born until the 19th century. Paradoxically, an American dentist named Dr. William Morrison is credited with this creation that is otherwise not advisable to eat for those who want healthy teeth. 

Dr. Morrison teamed up with confectioner John C. Wharton in 1897. The two invented and patented an electric machine that heated sugar in a spinning bowl with perforations in it. The sugar in the spinning bowl caramelised and passed through the holes, turning into thin strands. Wharton and Morrison called the resulting candy ‘fairy floss’.

Morrison and Wharton’s electric candy machine first caught the public eye in 1904 at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Approximately 20 million people attended the event, and Morrison and Wharton packaged their ‘fairy floss’ in wooden boxes and sold 68,655 helpings. The sweet treat became so popular that a candy store purchased the electric machine and started selling fairy floss.

The term “cotton candy” came to light in the 1920s when Josef Lascaux, another dentist, sold cotton candy to his patients. Lascaux tried but failed to improve on Morrison and Wharton’s original candy-making machine. In 1949, Gold Medal Products created the first factory-made cotton candy machine. 

Now, cotton candy is loved around the world. Different countries have given it different names: England calls it ‘candy floss’, China calls it ‘dragon’s beard’, France calls it ‘papa’s beard’ and Greece calls it ‘old lady’s hair’. Similar to Greece, people in India fondly call cotton candy “budhiya ke baal’. 

Back in the 60s and 70s in India, vendors selling cotton candy would visit residential neighbourhoods with a huge, transparent case that held the candy and ring a bell to alert residents that they had arrived. It was a time of great joy, especially for children, who would run out of their homes to buy cotton candy. Vendors selling cotton candy exist even now but the large, transparent cases have been replaced with sophisticated carts and there are no bells that ring.