Following the attack on Pearl Harbor President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized military commanders to create exclusion zones for persons who were considered a threat to national security. Large portions of the West Coast and the state of Arizona were declared exclusion zones, and the federal government established relocation centers for the displaced people in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. The target population for relocations was German, Italian, and Japanese nationals; and unfortunately a group of Americans referred to as Nisei, or native born Japanese Americans. On March 18, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9102 which officially created the War Relocation Authority (WRA), and the relocation of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans was initiated. These people were torn from their homes; forced to leave behind many of their possessions; and were interred in one of the ten established relocation centers.

During World War II the US military distributed sweet treats to the troops as a morale booster, and a quick source of energy. The military’s D rations and K rations included chocolate bars that were specifically designed as a high energy food source.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this story – the WRA relocating Japanese Americans, and the US military distributing candy bars to the troops? Well there is method to the madness! During World War II the Curtiss Candy Company was headquartered in McHenry County; more specifically in Cary, and they had a farm west of Marengo.

In 1916 an unemployed Otto Y. Schnering unleashed his entrepreneurial spirit and for $100.00 purchased some candy-making equipment, and the Curtiss Candy Company was born. Schnering initially produced his candy products in the back of a hardware store on the north side of Chicago, and the first few years of business were shaky. He did hit upon enough success with a bar called Kandy-Kake that allowed the company to move from the hardware store, and to expand its operations in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago. A year later in 1920 Schnering’s confectionary enterprise was again burdened by financial woes. Not dissuaded by the money problems the clever entrepreneur came up with a new product in 1921 – the Baby Ruth candy bar. I’m sure almost every reader has heard of this treat – caramel covered in peanuts and dipped in chocolate! This candy bar was well-known even before its co-starring role with Bill Murray in the famous pool scene in the movie Caddy Shack.

Schnering also developed a marketing gimmick where he cut the cost of the candy bar to a nickel during a time when other candy bars were selling for a dime. He also gave merchants the first box of twelve bars for free. The public fell in love with the product, and the bars flew off of the rack. Sales expanded to the national level, and according to the website Immigrant Entrepreneurship the Baby Ruth and another product the Polar Bar “generated over $1 million dollars in sales in 1921.” By 1928 Curtiss Candy Company operated three production plants and employed 3,500 workers.

In the early 1940’s Schnering purchased 650 acres of farmland in Cary, and soon afterward he expanded his farming interests with additional land purchases in other McHenry County locales such as Algonquin and Marengo. When World War II broke out the US government deemed the candy industry as necessary – because of the inclusion of chocolate and candy in the soldiers’ rations. The candy industry wasn’t re-tooled for war production, and continued to produce sweet treats. However, the candy-makers (like other industries) suffered from a labor crunch which was created by potential workers heading off to fight for freedom in far-off lands.

The labor pool may have been diminished, but the demand for candy was not. The candy-makers needed milk, cream, and eggs, and workers were required to produce these items. West of Marengo on US Route 20 the Curtis Candy Company operated a large farm, and like its competitors it faced a labor-crunch. The company tried to hire workers of Mexican descent, but was unsuccessful in its efforts, and turned to the WRA to fill its need for manpower. The WRA agreed to send sixteen Nisei farmers from relocation camps to work the Curtiss Candy Company farm.

On paper this was a great plan, but it all too quickly fell apart when resentment and resistance from some Marengo residents surfaced. Return next month to learn how this saga thrust our community into the national spotlight, and how our citizens reacted

News

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