Picture of Otto Young Schnering

Otto Young Schnering

Class of 2014

Otto Young Schnering, founder of Curtiss Candy Co., was born October 9, 1891, in Chicago, to Helen Curtiss and Julius. A visionary businessman and philanthropist, he was devoted to the values of hard work, education and family, which had been handed down from his father, Julius.

A 1913 graduate of the University of Chicago with a degree in philosophy, Otto’s first job was as a salesman for a piano company. When the company was sold, he purchased some candymaking equipment for $100 and set to making candy.

He founded Curtiss Candy, using his mother’s middle name, in 1916 in a second-floor back room on North Halstead Street in Chicago, and began introducing brands with varying degrees of success, including the Polar Bar, Jolly Jacks, Earth-O- Nutt Dip, the Vanilla Coconut and Honey Comb Chip.

In 1920, Otto invented the first five-cent candy bar, Baby Ruth, reportedly named after President Grover Cleveland’s daughter. After a publicity stunt in which Baby Ruth bars were dropped by mini-parachute from an airplane over Pittsburgh, the bar became a hit and the combined popularity of Baby Ruth and Polar Bar generated more than $1 million in sales in 1921. The brand’s success was quickly followed with the introduction of Butterfinger. By 1928 Curtiss Candy was producing one billion bars per year in three Chicago factories.

Otto knew clever marketing and advertising was necessary to attract consumer attention. In a push to promote the entire industry, he urged fellow candymakers to advertise jointly. He became chairman of the merchandising and advertising committee of the NCA, and in 1938 spearheaded the “Candy is Delicious Food — Eat Some Every Day” campaign.

Otto married twice, and his sons Robert and Philip, adopted from his second wife’s first marriage, joined the company and learned every aspect of the business. He also adopted their sister, Barbara. The sons took over the business following Otto’s death on January 10, 1953, at the age of 62.

In 1964, Curtiss Candy was sold to Standard Brands for $7.5 million (approximately $102 million today). It was merged with Nabisco, Inc., in 1981. In 1990, the Curtiss brands were sold to Nestlè, and the Baby Ruth and Butterfinger brands continue to be made and sold by the company.