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Meet The St. Louis Candymaker Who Brought Us Pixy Stix, SweeTarts And Nerds

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Curtis Gregory Perry
/
Flickr
The sweet and sour candy, SweeTarts, were invented under the direction of Menlo Smith.

In the 20th century, St. Louis was a hub for candy manufacturers. Chief among them was the Switzer Candy Company, founded by Joseph Murphy and his brother-in-law.

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In 1952, Menlo Smith moved to St. Louis and founded what would later become the candy giant Sunmark Corporation.

“[Switzer Candy Company] is the story of two Irish Catholic families in the poor part, the Irish part of St. Louis, building the American dream basically on a foundation of candy,” said Patrick Murphy, the candy company founder’s great-grandson, on St. Louis on the Air.

St. Louis is also home to candy magnate Menlo Smith, who the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described as a real-life Willy Wonka. In 1952, he moved to St. Louis and founded what would later become the candy giant Sunmark Corporation.

“St. Louis was the best place in the country to manufacture confectionery if you were going to be distributing it nationwide,” according to Smith.

At the time, Smith and his father manufactured a powdered drink packet called Fruzola, and orders for the packets were coming in fast.

When Smith’s father looked into why, “he found that all of the candy manufacturers had stopped manufacturing penny candy, and this little package of powder was the only thing that a kid could buy from the candy counter for a penny,” Smith said. Penny candy was in short supply because of rationing during World War II.

The packet “turned out to be a taste sensation that kids had not had before — it was tart and it was sour.”

It was then that Fruzola became the penny candy favorite, Lik-M-Aid, which would later be called Fun Dip. Smith’s company also manufactured Pixy Stix, SweeTarts, Sprees, Nerds and the Willy Wonka candies tied into the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske spoke with Smith about his career in candymaking. Steve Jianakoplos of Crestwood also joined the show. He shared stories from his grandfather’s time running the Princess Confectionary in Alton after emigrating from Greece in 1903.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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