I am a big fan of eBay. It is a treasure trove of interesting items and I continually search for artifacts related to the family. Here is one such item that I found which led to a lot of searching and digging before I was able to positively link it to a relative. Here is the story of the man behind the candy as well as the history of chocolate in Pennsylvania, of which he became a part.
I was not surprised to find that at least one Schoener in eastern Pennsylvania was involved in the manufacture of chocolate and candies. After all, Pennsylvania’s relationship with chocolate began early in the colonial days. In fact, Benjamin Franklin was a major proponent of chocolate in Philadelphia and started selling chocolate from his print shop as early as 1739. In 1757 Benjamin Jackson was selling some of the earliest handmade bars of chocolate in Philadelphia at Second and Market streets. In fact, Benjamin Rush, a well-known Philadelphia physician, avidly promoted chocolate for medical use.
As the Industrial Revolution took hold in the early 19th century, mechanized sugar refineries were built along the Delaware River, and the now affordable, and readily available refined sugar created opportunities for confections entrepreneurs. Thanks to its proximity to ready supplies of cocoa beans and sugar, chocolate in Philadelphia thrived as the city became a hub for confectioners with many soon to be famous companies setting up shop in the city! Big names in the Philadelphia chocolate industry included Quaker City Chocolate, Wilbur, Laurent and Maron, and Whitman’s. By the mid-1800s, chocolate in Philadelphia was a thriving industry and spread out into the other counties in the state.
Originally a "confectionery and fruiterer shoppe" set up in 1842 by 19-year-old, Stephen F. Whitman on the Philadelphia waterfront, Whitman's first became popular with traveling sailors and their wives. In 1877, he introduced Instantaneous Chocolates in tin boxes, that became much-admired. Whitman's later became Stephen F. Whitman & Son, Inc. Whitman's introduced the Whitman's Sampler in 1912, becoming the first use of cellophane by the candy industry. In 1915, the messenger boy was added to the Whitman's Sampler box and became a symbol of quality.
Then came Milton S. Hershey, a Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite, who was born on 13 September 1857 on a farm outside of Derry Church, Pennsylvania, a small farming community in the central part of the state. Following an incomplete rural school education, Hershey was apprenticed at age 15. After two failed attempts, Hershey set up the Lancaster Caramel Co. In 1900 he sold the company for $1 million (about $31 million today) and focused on perfecting his formula for chocolate bars. Three years later, he began building a mammoth and modern candy-making facility in Derry Church. It opened in 1905, setting a new course for Hershey and the candy industry.
The town was founded by Hershey in 1903 for the company’s workers, and their homes had modern amenities such as electricity, indoor plumbing, and central heating. The town had a public trolley; a free school to educate the children of employees; a free vocational school to train orphaned and underprivileged boys; and later an amusement park, golf courses, community center, hotel, zoo, and a sports area. The purpose was to provide "a perfect American town in a bucolic natural setting, where healthy, right-living, and well-paid workers lived in safe, happy homes.
John Franklin Schoener was born in Reading, PA on 27 August 1901, the second son and eighth child of Howard E. and Barbara B. (née Eisenhower) Schoener. He was baptized on 9 May 1905 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Reading along with five of his older siblings. Howard was a hammerman in a local locomotive shop. John's three eldest sisters worked in a hosiery mill to help support the family. Three more children arrived after John, one of which would die at the age of four.
By the time he turned eighteen, John was working as a candy maker. Like others, he may have left school and become an apprentice. He may have worked for one of several candy manufacturers in Reading at the time. One of them was Luden's, which was founded by William H. Luden, the son of an immigrant father from the Netherlands, as a backroom candy business in 1879 in the rear of his father’s jewelry shop at 35 N. 5th Street in Reading. An early product was “moshie,” a Pennsylvania Dutch candy made with brown sugar and molasses. In 1882, he moved his operations to 37 N. 5th St., and offered an extensive line, including cough drops, hard and soft candies, chocolates and marshmallow products, making candy for Christmas, with thirty pounds of sugar. In 1936, William Luden created the 5th Avenue candy bar. The name for the candy bar can be traced to H. Earl Erb, a Luden’s secretary-treasurer who helped develop the bar and who lived at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Chestnut Street, West Reading. The original version of the 5th avenue bar had roasted peanuts, crushed molasses, milk chocolate, and topped with toasted almonds.
On 26 January 1924 he married Ellen I. Houser. At the time he was employed as the manager of the Triangle candy factory in Reading. John would eventually start John F. Schoener, Inc and continue to manufacture candy and syrups. In 1935 he was granted a state charter. By 1939 he was selling his chocolates in stores and at an indoor farmers' market.
At some point, John would become partners with Anthony J. Napolitan. He was born on 22 January 1896 in Philadelphia, the son of immigrants who had arrived in America from Italy in 1889 and married in 1893. By 1910 the family of 9 was living in Johnstown, PA. When he was twenty-one, he was working for the confectionery manufacturing firm of Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein, Inc., of Chicago and Brooklyn, the maker of Cracker Jack. In 1921, on the occasion of the company's fiftieth anniversary, the company's name was changed to the Cracker Jack Company, in honor of its principal product and the fact that only an infinitesimal percentage of the people who bought and ate Cracker Jack had any idea who made it.
By 1930, Anthony was still living in Johnstown and had his own candy company, per the census of that year. It may have been the King-Kup Candies, Inc, which he headed in 1957 and was located in Hershey, PA. The company was expanding its plant after acquiring Coconut Ditties and Coconut BonBons from the Ohio Confection Co. It also provided space for increased production of King-Kup peanut butter cups. This product would cause legal issues with fellow manufacturer, H.B. Reese, also located in Hershey, PA.
In 1923, The H.B. Reese Candy Company was established in the basement of Harry Burnett (H.B.) Reese's home in Hershey. Reese had originally worked at a Hershey dairy farm and the Hershey Company supplied H.B. Reese with the chocolate coating for his candy, maintaining a close relationship with him throughout his candy ventures. Reese created the peanut butter cups in 1928 and were his most popular candy. He built his two candy factories in Hershey. When he died in 1956, his six sons took over the business and eventually sold it to The Hershey Company in 1963.
In March 1962, Schoener Candies, Inc., located at 216 Buttonwood St., purchased Berkshire Knitting Mills Building 202, known as the "clock building." It had previously been leased by the Hershey Chocolate Corporation.
On 1 August 1966, Schoener Candies was combined with King-Kup Candies, Inc., which had been acquired by Helme Products, Inc. the prior year. Helme had been organized in 1911 as a tobacco firm and began diversifying into the snack field. The acquisition of the Schoener company added considerable strength to its candy division. However, John's name was not mentioned, and the related articles listed A.J. Napolitan as the president. Perhaps John was a "silent partner" or had retired from the company that was his namesake. In 1950, he was still listed in the Reading City Directory as the President and Manager of the company.
John's wife Ellen would die in August 1986. He would pass less than two years later on 3 March 1988 at the age of 86. They did not have any children.
John spent his entire adult life dedicated to the manufacturing of chocolates and other confections, carving out his niche in Eastern Pennsylvania, an area that was rich with history, tradition and giants in that industry.