Emil J. Brach Portrait, 1945

Emil J. Brach Portrait, 1945

Emil Julius Brach


Emil J. Brach opened a small candy shop on North Avenue in Chicago’s largely German-American North Side neighborhood in 1904. By the time of his death forty-three years later, his candy company would be the world’s largest maker of popular-priced bulk candies, with a sprawling factory on Chicago’s west side believed to be the largest candy factory in the United States.


Emil J. Brach (born May 11, 1859 in Schoenwald, Germany; died October 29, 1947, Chicago, IL) opened a small candy shop on North Avenue in Chicago’s largely German-American North Side neighborhood in 1904. By the time of his death forty-three years later, his candy company would be the world’s largest maker of popular-priced bulk candies, with a sprawling factory on Chicago’s west side believed to be the largest candy factory in the United States.[1] Even after his death, Brach’s company continued to grow, remaining one of the country’s leading candy companies decade after decade. In 2012, Brach’s could still claim to be the leading manufacturer of bulk, loose candy in the United States.[2]

Like many founders of major confectionery businesses, Emil Brach’s biography remains only superficially known. He was virtually never interviewed during his lifetime and since his death in 1947 has rarely been the subject of serious inquiry or academic research. Like most companies in the fiercely competitive confectionery world, E. J. Brach and Sons was notoriously tight-lipped.[3] Official publications from the company present his biography in brief, hagiographic terms, depicting him most often as a genial, spectacled confectioner who delighted in visiting his “family” at the Brach factory. Even where they do exist, biographical profiles of Brach often include errors, sometimes repeated for decades. Sources give differing dates for the year he immigrated to the United States. Some, including the official Brach’s website, erroneously report he was the “son of German immigrants” and was born in Iowa. In fact, he was born in Germany and did not move to Iowa until the age of seven.[4]

These errors and oversights are unfortunate, if for no other reason than because they point to a larger oversight of the significance of Brach’s company in Chicago corporate history. As late as 1980, when Chicago was still America’s “candy capital,” Brach’s was “far and away the biggest general-line maker in Chicago,” producing more than 250 million pounds of candy annually and employing 3,500 workers at its 2.1-million-square-foot factory on the city’s west side.[5]

On a deeper level, E. J. Brach’s story deserves greater historical attention because it has much to tell us about the impact of ethnic identity on entrepreneurial history and the role of immigrationin changing socio-economic structures. Brach typified the German immigrant in some ways, such as his veneration for thrift, diligence, and family labor, but he also rejected some key German cultural values, such as community seclusion, that kept his fellow countrymen isolated from the broader American cultural mainstream.

Family and Ethnic Background

Brach’s story begins in 1859, when he was born on May 11 in one of the German towns named Schoenwald.[6] His parents, Martin and Wilhelmina (Hamler) Brach, baptized their fifth child on May 24 in Vandsburg, West Prussia.[7] In 1866, when Emil was seven years old, the Brachs moved with their six children to the United States, settling in the riverside city of Burlington in southeast Iowa.[8]

Why the family chose to move and how they picked Iowa is unknown, although Iowa was a common enough destination for German immigrants of this era. Germans comprised nearly thirty-five percent of total immigration to the United States in the 1850s and 1860s and were the second largest immigrant group to settle in Iowa.[9] The state was part of the traditional “German belt,” a swath across the middle of the United States that was heavily settled byGermans.[10]

Martin Brach had much in common with other nineteenth-century German immigrants. He moved to the United States not as an individual transient but as part of a stable family group, and he came not as an unskilled laborer but as a skilled practitioner of a traditional craft. From the earliest United States census reports on which he appears, he is listed as a blacksmith, a vital craft in the days of forged metal horseshoes and agricultural tools.[11] Burlington, located on the Mississippi River, could boast of a steamboat landing and several railroad lines, which would have made blacksmithing a valuable and stable occupation.

Young Emil appears to have gone to work at age twelve, working first for a trunk factory in Burlington for two dollars a week ($240 in 2010 dollars).[12] He did not abandon school, however, cramming in classes at the Burlington Business College and earning the money for his tuition and room and board by doing janitorial work and waiting on tables at a local restaurant.[13] By the age of fourteen, he was working for a small restaurant and confectionery store in Fairfield, Iowa, about fifty miles from Burlington. Soon promoted to manager, he showed the first signs of a lifelong fascination with inventions when he developed a new type of coffeemaker, capable of keeping coffee hot for up to six hours.[14]

While managing the store in Fairfield, Brach began purchasing candy from John Kranz, a Chicago confectioner, and befriended the company’s traveling salesman, Charles A. Spoehr, another German immigrant (born in Göppingen in southern Germany, about 44 km east of Stuttgart). It was an auspicious friendship. Kranz operated one of Chicago’s most famous candy businesses, known for its elegant marble and stained-glass retail store at 126-130 State Street from 1873 to 1946. An immigrant from Dörzbach in southwest Germany (about 60 km directly east of Heidelberg) who had learned the confectionery trade in Philadelphia, Kranz established an important link between two of Chicago’s future candy empires when he married Florentine Bunte in 1869.[15] Also born in Germany, Florentine had two brothers, Gustav and Ferdinand Bunte who would later team up with Charles Spoehr to open a small retail and wholesale candy shop on State Street in 1876 named Bunte Brothers and Spoehr.

Brach now had connections to both Chicago’s confectionery industry and Chicago’s burgeoning German-American community. This might explain why he decided to move to Chicago at some point around 1880. Nonetheless, when he did move, he probably did not come specifically to work for a candy business.[16] Although some sources claim he moved to work for Bunte Brothers and Spoehr,[17] official company histories report that he worked first for a machine shop and then for the Pullman Palace Car Company, maker of elaborate railroad cars.[18]

Whatever his path, Brach soon received an invitation from Charles Spoehr to work for Bunte Brothers and Spoehr.[19] Bunte was growing rapidly in the late nineteenth century and was on a path to becoming one of Chicago’s leading confectioners. It would become renowned in particular for its hard candies “stuffed” with soft fillings. By 1918, Bunte would employ 1,200 people and would be doing annual sales of around 2.4 million dollars (34.7 million dollars in 2010 dollars).[20]

In moving to Chicago, Brach was joining a large community of fellow immigrants. The city’s period of most rapid growth coincided almost exactly with the peak of mass European immigration to the United States, and scores of those immigrants found their way to Chicago. By 1890, seventy-nine percent of Chicagoans were born abroad (mostly in Europe) or were children of immigrants.[21]German immigrants were particularly prominent, making up the largest ethnic group in Chicago in the nineteenth century.[22] The city’s Germans (first and second generations) constituted twenty-nine percent of the population in 1900.[23] They dominated skilled jobs in several categories, including the food-service categories of bakers, butchers, and saloonkeepers, and made up 37 percent of Chicago’s confectionery shop owners in 1900.[24]

Over the next few decades, Brach achieved career stability and financial success. He married Katherine A. Cunningham of Harvard, Illinois, on Sept. 24, 1885 at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral.[25] The couple had three children: Edwin James, born in 1887; Frank Vincent, born 1890; and Anna Theresa, born 1892.

Brach managed to save the remarkable sum of $15,000 (about $371,000 in 2010 dollars), which enabled him to invest in another Chicago candy manufacturing firm, the Driebus-Heim Company.[26] He left the Bunte firm and worked from 1896 to 1904 as president and superintendent of Dreibus-Heim. Little is known about that firm or why Brach chose to invest there, but it apparently failed and disappears from the records after 1906.

Business Development

The failure of Dreibus-Heim was in many ways a propitious event for Brach. Although it meant the loss of his investment, it undoubtedly also spurred his decision, around 1904, to launch a candy business of his own.[27] Brach had $1,000 (about $25,300 in 2010 dollars) in savings, or else he managed to save that amount from a small wholesale candy route he had established, because according to the often-repeated story that later reached the heights of legend, in 1904 at the age of 45, Brach used $1,000 of savings to open his own candy shop.[28]

Despite the discouraging failure of Dreibus-Heim, there were plenty of good reasons for Brach to launch his own firm at this point. Chicago’s candy industry was ballooning and the number of wholesale and manufacturing confectioners in the city was growing each year. Whereas the city claimed only seventeen candy manufacturers in 1870, it had sixty-five in 1900 (not including retail-only establishments).[29] The names of many of Chicago’s great candy-makers—including Kranz, Bunte, Gunther, Rueckheim, Goelitz, and Schnering—indicates the German heritage of many of those firms.

Candy consumption among Americans soared at the turn of the century. Annual candy consumption in the United States had been 2.2 pounds per person in 1880. It reached 5.6 pounds by 1914 and would hit 13.1 pounds in 1919.[30] Chicago’s period of exponential growth in population coincided with major growth from the industrial revolution that gave rise to new high-production machinery that could mix, mold, shape, coat, and package candies in quantities never before possible.

Brach was positioned perfectly to take advantage of these trends when he opened Brach’s Palace of Sweets in the fall of 1904. Located at North Avenue and Town Street, between Halsted and Larrabee Streets, the store occupied a typical retail footprint, measuring only eighteen feet wide by sixty-five feet deep. A partition separated the front store, with a candy counter and ice cream parlor, from the rear space that was used for making candy and ice cream.[31]

The majority of candy stores have always been small shops similar to Brach’s, serving a particular neighborhood and located on a crowded corner or busy street. Most, like Brach’s, specialized in handmade candies sold alongside ice cream creations. Immigrants who came to Chicago already armed with candymaking expertise often opened these small confectionery shops catering to other immigrants with a nostalgic yearning for the sweet tastes of home.

Small family-operated businesses were particularly common among German immigrants, who often relied upon family labor and viewed the family, including wives and children, as a joint economic endeavor.[32] Brach’s sons Edwin, age seventeen in 1904, and Frank, age fourteen, were involved in the store from its founding. In the early days, the store’s customers were probably local neighborhood residents in the North Side area known today as Old Town, which had originally been settled by German Catholic immigrants. German residents and German institutions dominated the North Side for more than half a century, longer than any other Chicago neighborhood, and the area retained its strong German ethnic presence well into the twentieth century.[33]

Frank Brach would later describe the first few months as “touch and go,” recalling in 1965 that “the ice cream was always too soft.” But the business grew quickly. “My mother got me up early every day when we just started out. She used to kiss me and say, ‘You’re going to be a wonderful business man.’ I couldn’t let her down, so I went to Y.M.C.A. night school and took English and bookkeeping,” he explained.[34] Frank went on to attend DePaul University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1908.[35]

Unlike many immigrants who opened neighborhood candy shops, however, Emil Brach showed signs of ambition for something more than just a neighborhood shop. He began undercutting his competition, selling candy on special sale days for twenty cents per pound, well below the typical retail price of up to fifty or sixty cents.[36] An early photograph of the Palace of Sweets shows Brach, wearing a businessman-like bowler hat, standing outside his shop beside a banner reading, “Why go downtown for candy when you can get it here 25 percent less.”

In those early days, Edwin Brach also worked as a bookkeeper for Chicago’s famed department store Marshall Field and Company, an experience that would have given him insight and connections into Chicago’s downtown retail industry.[37] Possibly because of Edwin’s knowledge, Emil Brach soon began targeting downtown stores. One of the first specialties to emerge for Brach was a pan caramel that reportedly had taken two years to develop and was possibly improved by baking rather than boiling the ingredients. Caramels soon became the company’s bestseller and first major wholesale product.[38]

Brach received his first significant wholesale orders from two of the city’s largest discount department stores on the major retail thoroughfare of State Street. Siegel-Cooper ordered one thousand pounds of caramels and Rothschild and Company ordered 350 pounds.[39] The young company had to scramble to fill these two massive orders. It reportedly took them four days to make and package the orders working from the small back room of the shop.[40]

Frank Brach appears to have been the firm’s primary salesman and led the way in bringing Brach’s caramels into other Chicago department stores. To encourage volume sales, Frank began visiting stores, “demonstrating” the candies by offering samples and direct sales pitches to customers. “He wore a white suit, told customers about the Brach kitchens, and often sold 800 to 1,000 pounds in a single day.”[41] He also served as the counter salesman in the store and made deliveries by horse and wagon.[42] Edwin Brach, with his flair for finances, soon left his department store job and kept the store’s records, although he also sold to customers and helped cut and package candies.[43]

Wholesale demand soon outstripped the manufacturing capacity of the small shop on North Avenue. Whether or not it was his original intention to grow into a larger wholesale firm, Brach appears to have realized early that manufacturing candy solely for his own shop offered limited potential. Volume sales as a manufacturing confectionery promised greater profits. In May 1906, after less than two years of operation, the family closed the North Avenue store and moved to a new facility at 81 South Des Plaines Street on the city’s Near West Side.[44] The sign over the front doors announced the company’s new focus: “E. J. Brach, Manufacturing Confectioner.”

In moving so quickly from a combined retail-wholesale firm to a solely wholesale company, Brach broke from the usual pattern among Chicago’s immigrants. The city’s German-American residents in particular tended to remain segregated in neighborhood enclaves, isolated as much socially and institutionally as physically from Chicago’s other ethnic and social communities. Brach showed little hesitation in moving beyond the German-American community, both physically and institutionally. Brach’s new space provided room for significantly expanded production, allowing the company to add peanut candies and hard candies to its line. “Edwin, who could manipulate figures, estimated that the factory could produce 12,000 pounds a week. Frank … felt that he could master the gigantic task of selling that much candy every week, and so did Father Brach.”[45]

The company’s production volume and sales exploded over the next few years. Brach’s candies began to appear not only in the majority of Chicago’s department stores but also in discount variety stores such as S. H. Knox and Company and Steele Five and Dime stores, and in early movie theaters.[46] In 1909, just about two years after the first move, growing sales forced Brach’s to move again, this time to a factory at La Salle and Illinois Streets.[47] Over the next few years, the company leased adjacent and nearby space, reaching capacity for 50,000 pounds of candy production weekly by 1911. The company introduced more new items including cream and gum candies, fudge, jelly beans, and burnt peanuts.[48]

One of the keys to Emil Brach’s success in handling these jumps was his openness to labor-saving machinery and high-volume technology. From an early date, Emil was fascinated with technologies that could speed up the costly and slow process of producing candy by traditional methods. While still at the North Avenue site, he developed a method for applying an uninterrupted gas flame to the bottom of a tilting candy kettle as well as a machine that dipped taffy on a stick into chocolate, doing the work of about seven people.[49] Later, he would create a hard candy cutter that, once perfected, was adopted by hundreds of other candy companies. In 1922, he was operating a separate confectionery machinery company whose products included a continuous cutter and a cooler and conveyor machine, promising “the greatest output in the smallest space.”[50]

Brach consistently looked for methods to decrease the amount of hand labor involved in producing his candies and thereby increase efficiencies.[51] The family plowed surplus profits into the business and kept their own salaries low. When Edwin left his bookkeeping job at Marshall Field’s and began working for the family store, he received no pay at all.[52] By the early 1910s, he was receiving nine dollars a week and Frank, three years younger, just seven dollars a week (roughly $210 and $160 in 2010 dollars).[53] Constantly reinvesting profits into the firm and avoiding borrowing money for capital purposes helped ensure that the volume of production consistently increased along with its exploding sales. By this point, the company had adopted its defining slogan: “Make better candy at popular prices.”[54]

Progressive reformers in the early twentieth century were intensely concerned about food safety, targeting the candy industry in particular for its perceived laissez-faire approach to consumer protection. Unscrupulous manufacturers were accused of incorporating unsafe adulterants, such as plaster of Paris to make candies whiter and sulphuric acid to keep candies firm in warm weather.[55] The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 addressed these dangers, regulating the ingredients and processes by which many foods, including candy, were created. Candy companies in the 1910s responded obsessively to these fears, stressing the purity of their candies and absolute cleanliness of their factories.[56]

Brach responded to these fears in 1913 by opening a Laboratory of Control, touted as the first candy laboratory in America. This laboratory, the company claimed, would scientifically analyze raw materials and finished candies, ensuring consistent quality and purity. It apparently worked, because the laboratory would be expanded in 1915 and 1916 and would continue to be a point of pride for years. Brach advertisements that began appearing in Chicago newspapers around 1920 stressed the “absolute purity” of Brach’s candy: “One of the most enjoyable things about Brach’s Candies is their cleanliness. No human hand touches them in the making.” A note below the firm’s logo reads “Doubly Enjoyable because You Know They’re Clean.”[57]

By any reckoning, Emil Brach’s company experienced remarkable growth in its first fifteen years. It grew from a small family business into a full-blown company with multiple facilities and an ever-increasing staff of candymakers. A second factory, known as the Franklin and Ohio Building, was added to the firm in 1915, increasing capacity to 1,100,000 pounds per week. Just three years later, Brach’s capacity topped two million pounds a week when yet another manufacturing site was added.[58]

Nonetheless, despite its huge production capacity and ever-expanding size, the company worked hard to retain its identity as a family-operated business. When the firm incorporated in 1916, Emil Brach was elected president and Edwin and Frank Brach were elected vice presidents.[59] By 1918, the company had begun using a “family crest” as its emblem, stamping it onto the company’s wooden pails and boxes.[60]

While there is no indication that Emil Brach ever rejected his German heritage, there are signs that his German ethnic identity was neither primary nor singularly defining for him. Although the Palace of Sweets opened in the heart of Chicago’s German-American neighborhood, he lived at the time just north of the German area, at 1320 Montana Street.[61] By 1911, he had moved even farther north, to 4151 Sheridan Road.[62] German immigrants in Chicago tended to marry other Germans, but Katherine Brach was the daughter of two Irish immigrants (although she did share Brach’s Catholic religion).[63] Emil Brach rarely joined organizations, German or otherwise, that might have strengthened his informal personal associations with other German-Americans. The 1911 Book of Chicagoans lists only two organizations for him; he was a Republican and a member of the Royal League, a fraternal benefit organization.[64] He also enjoyed singing and appeared occasionally in chorale concerts.

While Brach did not participate extensively in Chicago’s German-American associational life, he does appear to have strongly embraced his family identity, as indicated by the name adopted for the firm in the mid-1910s, probably at the time of the incorporation: E. J. Brach and Sons. Brach’s candy business was family owned and operated, and Brach’s focus on family rather than ethnicity might have helped him escape the circumscribed ethnic identity that sometimes hindered immigrants from expanding a business outside their own culturally defined neighborhoods.

Even Brach advertisements conveyed the company’s familial focus. A 1920 Brach’s newspaper advertisement shows a mother reading a story to three children by candlelight, telling them the story of a candymaker and the cacao beans and almonds he gathers to make his candies.[65] The accompanying drawing includes a cozy mother-and-children group, illuminated by a candle, with the outline of a castle visible outside the window. While the castle, the calligraphic lettering of the word “Brach’s,” and the “Brach Shield of Quality,” might be read as a subtle evocation of the company founder’s German ancestry, the warm, homelike image evokes more strongly a fairy-tale feeling and a generic aura of old-fashioned traditional charm.

By 1922, Brach’s was doing ten million dollars in business annually (roughly 130 million in 2010 dollars) and had an output estimated as “by far the largest of any candy concern in the country – possibly the world.”[66] Its factories provided candy to 100,000 retailers nationally including department stores, small general shops, and chain stores. Its workforce numbered around 900. About 250 of them were salesmen, a strong testimony to the work of Frank Brach, who continued to oversee the sales operations.[67]

By this time, however, the scattered locations of Brach’s factories were making efficient operations difficult. With sales continuing to rise and a pressing need for greater efficiency, company leaders decided to combine the company’s work under one roof. They announced plans to build a vast new factory on Chicago’s west side that would consolidate its scattered operations.[68]

In 1923, the first section of an immense modern factory opened at 4656 West Kinzie Street. Built at a cost of $5 million (roughly $63.9 million in 2010 dollars), the new building provided about 600,000 square feet of floor space for consolidated production of the company’s 127 different kinds of candy. It had “seven acres of smooth concrete floors, solid concrete construction – with steel and glass; walls 50 percent glass – it is in reality a ‘sunlight’ factory; equipped with a large Steam Plant – a Refrigerating Plant – and an Electric Transforming Station; private R.R. switches with a capacity of two train cars; equipped with the latest and most efficient labor-saving machinery of American or European make.”[69] Terracotta renditions of the Brach seal appeared prominently atop a four-story tower.

The site for the new factory had been chosen with care and deliberateness. Chicago’s west side had the clear advantage of easy access to transportation and room for expansion. Company leaders also believed that “good substantial employees” could be recruited from the surrounding neighborhood, known as Austin, which included German, Greek, Irish, Italian, and Scandinavian immigrants.[70]

Although it was among the largest, the Brach’s factory was not the only significant candy factory built in Chicago in the 1920s. Post-war demand for candy led to numerous expansions and new construction projects. Bunte Brothers built one of the country’s most modern and efficient candy factories, an acclaimed Prairie-style factory on Franklin Boulevard that was said to be the world’s largest candy factory when it opened in 1919. In 1921, George Williamson opened a 96,000-square-foot factory on Ashland Avenue that produced only Oh Henry! bars, which at the time were his company’s sole product. Frank Mars opened Mars’ first large-scale manufacturing operation on Chicago’s far west side in 1929.

The 1920s were momentous for Emil J. Brach in other ways as well. His wife Katherine died on November 4, 1924, at the age of 64. One year later, Emil married Marie Hult, a woman twenty-seven years his junior who had worked as a filing clerk for his company.[71] Marie was an immigrant herself, having arrived from Sweden in 1916. Emil’s years of active participation in his company ended after his remarriage, when he and Marie moved to Florida.[72]

For the rest of his life, however, Emil continued to serve as the company’s president and a symbol of its corporate identity as a family business. His portrait frequently appeared in advertisements for Brach’s candy throughout the 1920s, sometimes accompanied by a signed note from the legendary founder himself. The grandfatherly Brach served as a visual reminder of the company’s roots in a “family kitchen” and strengthened the company’s aura of being a small family business.

The Great Depression hit the confectionery industry hard, with candy sales nationally dropping from just under $448 million in 1914 ($10.1 billion in 2010 dollars) to $211 million in 1933 ($3.6 billion in 2010 dollars). E. J. Brach and Sons was not immune, hitting a low of $1.27 million ($20.7 million in 2010 dollars) in sales in 1934. Nonetheless, even with this drop, Brach’s remained profitable and posted a net income of $175,000 that year ($2.9 million in 2010 dollars).[73] As Peter Liebhold, chairman of the Smithsonian Institution’s Work and Industry Division, has noted, the very survival of candy companies indicates their ability to weather economic upheavals: “Candy companies are relatively recession-proof. During the Great Depression, candy companies stayed in business.”[74]

Brach’s remained profitable enough to launch several major building projects at its factory complex in the 1930s. In 1935, an addition to the north was added, giving Brach’s a modern shipping room with a conveyor system for moving tons of candy to trains and trucks.[75] In 1937, a three-story modern chocolate grinding plant was added. By 1939, when Brach’s announced plans to build another addition, this time costing $500,000 ($7.9 million in 2010 dollars), the Chicago Tribune estimated that E. J. Brach and Sons was a major reason why Chicago had emerged as the largest candy manufacturing city in America.[76]

Brach’s explored different types of candy markets during its first few decades. Candy bar sales exploded after candy manufacturers began producing candy bars on a large scale for sale in army post exchanges during World War I.[77] Brach’s joined the stampede, introducing several bars over the next few decades. The chocolate-covered, honeycombed peanut-butter Swing bar was probably the most successful, but Brach’s also made several other candy bars, including a mint bar and an almond nougat bar.

World War II gave E. J. Brach and Sons unprecedented opportunity to position itself as a leading supplier to the U.S. military and promote its products nationally. Millions of pounds of Brach’s candy were shipped to American forces overseas, both as component parts of emergency or combat rations, or for sale in military post exchanges. Fifty percent of all Swing bar production was sent overseas.[78] The company also converted part of its factory to packaging powdered eggs and shipped millions of pounds of powdered eggs to the War Food Administration.[79] To maintain its workforce during the war, Brach recruited women, offering premiums ranging from electric mixers to radios for workers who brought in new employees.[80] Brach workers won the Army-Navy “E” award recognizing excellence in production of war equipment and then the White Star for “continued meritorious service.”[81] By June 1945, 428 employees of E. J. Brach and Sons had served in the military, with five killed in action.[82]

Throughout both world wars, the company avoided calling attention to its founder’s ancestry. Chicago, like most of the United States, experienced intense waves of anti-German nativism during both World War I and World War II.[83] When the United States entered World War I, Chicagoans painted the statue of Friedrich Schiller in Lincoln Park with yellow coward’s paint, the Chicago Athletic Club fired its German employees, and numerous organizations changed their names. The Germania Club became the Lincoln Club, and the Bismarck Hotel was rechristened the Hotel Randolph.[84] Brach, however, weathered this fierce anti-German antagonism. Neither he nor his sons ever publicly discussed the war. The company downplayed its founder’s German roots. The Story of Brach, a pamphlet published in 1923 to commemorate the new factory building, makes no mention of his birthplace or immigration.[85] The Brach’s 1946 annual yearbook opens its colorful comic-book-style “Story of Brach” with young twelve-year-old Emil at work in Iowa, making no mention of his German birth or immigration. Around 1920, the company added the phrase “Ask for Brox” to its advertisements and candy wrappers, a pronunciation tip that also functioned as a subtle Americanization of the firm’s German name.

Nothing about its founder’s German heritage prevented the company from launching its first national advertising campaign in October 1943.[86] The campaign included advertisements in newspapers in ten cities and on radio programs in Chicago and several other cities. In 1946, Brach billboards appeared in 26 key markets nationally, advertising Contessa chocolates, Swing bars, and Mint bars.[87] Brach’s advertisements in the late 1940s positioned Brach’s as affordable luxury candies and appeared in “prestige magazines” such as Vogue, House Beautiful, House and Garden, Better Homes and Gardens, and Harper’s Bazaar. Print advertisements featured prominent women, such as actress and novelist Ilka Chase, wearing glamorous gowns and posed in luxurious settings, creating an image of Brach’s candies as treats for sophisticated consumers.

Although restrictions on everything from sugar to containers limited the company’s ambitions in the immediate post-war years, Brach’s moved ahead with plans for another new addition, opened in 1947. The factory now included new shipping and candy conditioning facilities, a modern chocolate grinding plant, and space for two thousand employees.

Starting around 1950, however, Edwin and Frank began reshaping the company’s brand, strengthening its identity as the nation’s leading producer of bulk and bagged candy. The company phased out most candy bar production by the 1950s, positioning itself in contrast to both the mainstream candy bar industry, which had become intensely competitive by this era, and the purveyors of fancy boxed chocolates. Not only was the popular-prized bulk sector of the candy industry less crowded, it was also the area of Brach’s long-standing strength. The company had long invested in advanced wrapping equipment, making it capable of efficient production of individually wrapped candies in volume. Moreover, the focus on bulk and bagged candies ensured Brach’s a financial advantage in summer. Many of Brach’s candies – gumdrops, toffees, orange slices, and caramels – remained solid in hot summer weather when temperatures rose to levels where chocolate would melt. That gave Brach’s an edge in the years prior to widespread air conditioning.

Social Status, Networks, Family and Public Life

In the last years of his life, Emil Brach assumed the position of revered father figure to an enormous empire. The Chicago Tribune, which had already declared that Brach’s was “the world’s largest maker of popular priced bulk candies,” quoted the company as saying that with seventeen acres of floor space, the Brach’s factory at mid-century was twelve candy plants in one.[88] The company was reportedly doing $40 million in sales in 1947 ($390 million in 2010 dollars), producing ten percent of the bulk and packaged chocolates and candies consumed in the United States (not including candy bars).[89] This was an impressive achievement by any measure, but especially so because Illinois by this era was the largest candy manufacturing state in the country, turning out more than one-fourth of all confectionery made in the United States in the 1940s.[90]

Emil himself was dubbed “Father Brach,” with one annual review noting “[It] is always an occasion of happy reunion when Father Brach returns to see his many friends in the plant.”[91] Although he divided his year between his two homes—a summer house in Hendersonville, North Carolina, and a winter estate in St. Petersburg, Florida—he visited Chicago at least once each year.

“Father Brach” was an important part of the company’s identity as a family business, despite its huge size. In 1944, the company titled its annual yearbook “The Brach Family Album,” and included a seven-page history of the company titled “The Fortieth Anniversary Story of the Brach Family of Candy Makers.”[92] Company newsletters in this era resembled school yearbooks, with page after page of photographs of smiling workers and frequent references to the Brach “family.”

Employee newsletters and annual yearbooks breathlessly retold the tale of the company’s humble origins. The story of the early days, when the Brach family packaged its candy in wooden pails and distributed it by horse and wagon, made a compelling contrast to the 1940s when uniformed workers packed Brach’s candy into cellophane bags and shiny cardboard boxes for national sales. The idea of family remained, the company insisted, despite its huge growth. “Working together in a spirit of family cooperation, the Brachs and their coworkers expanded to over 2000 in number where the spirit of the Brach Family remains giving greater happiness and security to everyone.”[93]

In keeping with its family identity, the company prided itself on offering its employees generous benefits including not only insurance, vacation plans, and sick benefits but also on-site commissaries, a laundry for employee uniforms, an employee candy store, a credit union, and a library bookmobile. Company-organized recreational activities included baseball and bowling leagues, a summer golf tournament, and the Brach Families Yuletide celebration.[94] The Foremen’s Fellowship Club sponsored an annual summer picnic with pony and toy train rides, as well as an annual boxing tournament whose proceeds benefited local charities.

In the autumn of 1947, the 89-year-old Brach paid his annual visit to Chicago, traveling alone because illness forced his wife Marie to remain in North Carolina. While staying at the Webster Hotel, Emil Brach suffered a heart attack and died peacefully on October 29. His sons Frank and Edwin reportedly visited him an hour prior to his death. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery located directly north of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois.[95]

Because his business had been, from the start, a family-run concern and because he had retired from active participation more than twenty years earlier, the company suffered little following the loss of its key founder. Over the next few decades, E. J. Brach and Sons continued on a relatively seamless path of exponential growth. The Chicago factory grew into the country’s largest candymaking facility, producing four million pounds of candy weekly by the end of the 1950s, when E. J. Brach and Sons could boast of being the largest manufacturer of general line candies in the United States.[96] Brach’s sales topped $58 million in 1960 ($427 million in 2010 dollars).[97] By the 1980s, the firm employed 3,500 workers, making it the largest employer on Chicago’s west side.[98] In 1991, the factory, now covering 2.2 million square feet, claimed to be the world’s largest, capable of producing more than two million pounds of candy per day.[99]

Much of this growth was led by Emil Brach’s sons. Following his father’s death, Edwin Brach became president of the company and then, in 1951, chairman of the board and chief executive officer. Frank Brach succeeded his brother, moving from executive vice president to president in 1951.[100] Edwin, known for his financial acumen and organizational proficiency, led the company with an emphasis on efficiency and debt avoidance. Frank earned a reputation for leading the company’s sales and marketing innovations, introducing in 1958 the popular and widely imitated nostalgic “Pick-A-Mix” kiosks which permitted customers in modern supermarkets to mix their own candy assortments. In the late 1950s, Brach’s also pushed seasonal promotions and partnered with Warner Brothers’ popular Bugs Bunny cartoon character in a successful advertising partnership.

Neither Edwin nor Frank Brach retained ties much closer to their German heritage than their father had. Both Edwin and Frank attended schools in Chicago and later, as their wealth increased, moved to suburbs in the prosperous area north of Chicago. Edwin, a 1900 graduate of St. Vincent’s School (probably the grammar school associated with the Catholic but not exclusively German St. Vincent de Paul parish), became known for his charitable interests. Among his favorite charities was St. Anne’s Hospital, a Catholic hospital located just one mile from the Brach’s factory. Frank, who received a B.A. in 1908 from Chicago’s DePaul University, participated in a number of civic and industrial associations, with memberships including the National Confectioners Association, the Chicago Athletic and Illinois Athletic Clubs, and the elite Bob-O-Link Golf Club in Highland Park, none of them exclusively or primarily German.

Edwin Brach passed away in 1965 at his winter home in Tucson, Arizona, at the age of 77, leaving Frank as the only remaining founding member of the company.[101] One year later, in 1966, Frank sold Brach’s to American Home Products Co. but stayed on as chairman of the board. In recognition of the enormous influence of the company he founded with his father and brother, Frank was showered with honors in this decade. The National Confectioners Association (N.C.A.) named him its first honorary chairman in 1965, the Ben Franklin Stores gave him a plaque in honor of Brach’s contribution to the growth of the 2,400-store chain, and the N.C.A. awarded him the Kettle Award, recognizing him as the candy industry man of the year, in 1966.[102]

When Frank died in 1970, he left an estate of just under $23 million ($129 million in 2010 dollars) mostly in trust to his widow and third wife, Helen Vorhees Brach, who in turn used much of her fortune to endow a foundation dedicated to animal welfare.[103] The Brach name made national headlines in 1977 when Helen disappeared under mysterious circumstances. She was declared legally dead in May 1984 and a long-running investigation into her disappearance revealed serious criminal activity associated with Chicago stable owners.[104] Although her body was never recovered, many believe her killing was part of larger horse murder and insurance fraud schemes exposed in the 1990s. In 1995, horse trader and stable owner Richard Bailey was sentenced to thirty years in prison for conspiring to murder and soliciting the murder of Helen Brach.[105]


In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Brach’s Confectioneries changed hands several times. America Home Products Corporation sold the Brach’s division to the Swiss corporation Jacobs Suchard in 1986. In 2003, Brach's was sold to the Swiss company Barry Callebaut, which closed the venerable Chicago factory and moved the company’s headquarters and manufacturing operations out of Illinois.[106] In 2007, Farley’s and Sathers Candy Company of Round Lake, Minnesota, acquired Brach’s. Remarkably, through all these changes Brach’s has continued to be one of America’s leading candy brands. Some of the most popular Brach’s candies today – such as caramels, chocolate-covered peanuts, peppermint and butterscotch hard candies, and gumdrops – can trace their heritage back to the early Chicago factories started by Emil J. Brach and his sons.

The Brachs possessed a number of personal characteristics that made them typically German, especially their reliance on family and reluctance to take on debt. In its early days, E. J. Brach and Sons thrived by capitalizing on the heterogeneous skills of family members and by diligently pursuing methods of maximizing profits while keeping expenses low. At the same time, they avoided the clannishness and strong ethnic identification that kept some German-Americans culturally apart. Their willingness to embrace mechanization over hand labor and openness to moving beyond their ethnic community helped their company establish a consistent pattern of growth and expansion and laid the foundation for what has become one of America’s most recognizable brand names.


[1]History of Brach's Confections,” Brach's, (accessed July 12, 2003).

[2] “History of Brach's Confections.”

[3] For example, when an “Emil Brach” obtained a license to marry Marie Hult in 1925, newspaper reporters were unable to obtain confirmation that the Emil Brach on the license was the famous candy merchant. See, “Emil Brach, 66, to Wed; May be Candy Merchant,” Chicago Tribune, November 28, 1925, 3. Similarly, when E. J. Brach and Sons was gearing up to build one of the largest candy factories in the world, Edwin J. Brach (son of Emil) refused to admit expansion plans to the press until told that the transfer of property purchased by the company had been filed for record. See “Chicago to Be Sweetest Spot on Earth if Candy Boom Lasts,” Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1920, A14.

[4] “History of Brach's Confections”; Abelman, Frayne, & Schwab, “This Week in Intellectual Property History for October 17–23, 2010,” (accessed August 18, 2012).

[5] Pam Sebasuan, “The ‘City of Big Shoulders’ Has a Sweet Tooth, Too,” Chicago Tribune, Nov. 5, 1980, E5. “General-line” means, in this sense, a company that manufactured a wide range of candies rather than specializing in a small number of specific brands or varieties.

[6] Sources do not clarify which Schoenwald it was, but his subsequent baptism in West Prussia suggests it was the city then located in Kreis Flatow, West Prussia, today known as Szynwald, Poland, about 65 kilometers from Bydgoszcz.

[7] Germany, Births and Baptisms, 1558–1898, index based on data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah,FamilySearch.org (accessed December 20, 2012).

[8] Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving At New York, New York, 1820–1897 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M237); Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36, National Archives, Washington D.C., Ancestry.com (accessed December 27, 2012).

[9] Iowa Pathway, “Germans,” Iowa Public Television, (accessed December 16, 2012).

[10] Kathleen Neils Conzen, “Germans,” Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Identity, ed. Stephen Thernstrom (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1980), 405–24, here 410.

[11] Ninth Census of the United States, 1870; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M593); Records of the Bureau of the Census, National Archives, Washington D.C. accessed online at Ancestry.com (December 27, 2012).

[12] “The Fortieth Anniversary Story,” Brach Family Album, 7.

[13] “Emil J. Brach,” American-German Review, 34.

[14] Ibid.

[15] A. N. Waterman, “John M. Kranz,” Historical Review of Chicago and Cook County and Selected Biography (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co., 1908): 1154–55.

[16] Brach company histories usually give the date of Brach’s move to Chicago as 1880 and he does not appear in the Martin Brach household in the 1880 United States Census. However, he does not appear in the 1885 Chicago city directory and the 1885 Iowa State Census lists an Emil Brach, age 25, dealer in cigars, living with Martin and Mina Brach in Burlington. See Iowa 1885 State Census, Des Moines County, Ward 2, 262, State Historical Society of Iowa; accessed online at Ancestry.com (December 25, 2012).

[17] “The Fortieth Anniversary Story,” Brach Family Album, 8.

[18] “The Story of Brach,” Brach's Record Album (Chicago: E. J. Brach and Sons, 1946): 2-3, here 2.

[19] The Story of Brach (Chicago: E. J. Brach and Sons, 1923): 11. See also Henry G. Abbott, Historical Sketch of the Confectionery Trade of Chicago (Chicago: Jobbing Confectioners’ Association, YEAR?), 77.

[20] J. S. Currey, “Bunte Brothers,” in Manufacturing and Wholesale Industries of Chicago (Chicago: Thomas B. Poole, 1918): 38-41, here 39; and “Bunte Bros.,” The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago, (accessed December 2, 2011).

[21] Irving Cutler, Chicago: Metropolis of the Mid-Continent, 3rd ed. (Dubuque, Ia.: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1982), 45.

[22] Donald L. Miller, City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003): 468.

[23] Melvin G. Holli, “German-American Ethnic Identity from 1890 Onward: The Chicago Case,” The Great Lakes Review 11:1 (Spring 1985): 1–11, here 3.

[24] Ibid., 3.

[25] Cook County, Illinois, Marriages Index, 1871-1902, Illinois Department of Public Health Records, Division of Vital Records, Springfield, Illinois, accessed on FamilySearch.org (December 18, 2012).

[26]Brach’s,” Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company, (accessed December 16, 2012). This and other monetary value comparisons calculated using All conversions are made using the Purchasing Price Calculator found at “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount – 1774 to Present,” available at MeasuringWorth (accessed December 19, 2012).

[27] “History of Brach's Confections”; and “Emil J. Brach, 88, Candy Firm President, Dies,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 30, 1947, 52.

[28] The story of Brach launching his firm with $1,000 appears consistently in Brach’s obituaries, Brach’s biographical profiles, E. J. Brach and Sons annual reports, and on the official Brach website. See, for example, “The Story of Brach,” Brach’s Record Album, 1; “Emil J. Brach,” Chicago Tribune, 52; “Emil J. Brach,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 1947, 15; John McDonnell, “Chief Candy Taster at Brach’s Also Holds Down Presidency,”Chicago Tribune, July 4, 1965, A7; “Brach,” German-American Business Biographies: High Finance and Big Business (Asheville, N.C.: Money Tree Imprints, 2001), 126; and “Brach’s,” Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company, (accessed December 16, 2012).

[29] Abbott, Historical Sketch, 199.

[30] “America Eating More Candy,” Literary Digest 66 (Sep. 25, 1920): 42.

[31] Untitled typewritten manuscript, undated, found in the Austin Community Collection, Special Collections and Preservation Division, Chicago Public Library, box 10, folder 12.

[32] Conzen, “Germans,” 417.

[33] Christiana Harzig, “Chicago’s German North Side, 1880-1900: The Structure of a Gilded Age Ethnic Neighborhood,” in German Workers in Industrial Chicago, 1850–1910: A Comparative Perspective, ed. Hartmut Keil and John B. Jentz (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1983): 127–144, here 128.

[34] McDonnell, “Chief Candy,” A7.

[35] “Brach, Frank Vincent,” in National Cyclopedia of American Biography, vol. 55 (Clifton, N.J.: James T. White, 1974), 360–361, here 360.

[36] Klokis, “Palace of Sweets,” 82.

[37] “The Fortieth Anniversary Story,” Brach Family Album, 10.

[38] “The Progress of Brach,” Brach Review of 1947 (Chicago: E. J. Brach and Sons, 1947): 5–6. See also “Brach,” National Cyclopedia, 360.

[39] The Story of Brach, 16.

[40] “The Story of Brach,” Brach’s Record Album, 1.

[41] Joseph Egelhof, “Candy Makers Know Value of a Brand Name,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 9, 1951, 1.

[42] “Brach,” National Cyclopedia, 360.

[43] “Edwin Brach Dies,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 28, 1965, 29.

[44] “The Story of Brach,” Brach’s Record Album, 2.

[45] “The Fortieth Anniversary Story,” Brach Family Album, 10.

[46] “Frank V. Brach Dies,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 30, 1970, 19.

[47] “The Story of Brach,” Brach’s Record Album, 3; and “The Fortieth Anniversary Story,” Brach Family Album, 11.

[48] Brach, “The Progress of Brach,” 5; and “The Fortieth Anniversary Story,” Brach Family Album, 11.

[49] The Story of Brach, 15; “The Story of Brach,” Brach’s Record Album, 2; and “The Fortieth Anniversary Story,” Brach Family Album, 9.

[50] Emil J. Brach, “Brach Cutter, Cooler and Conveyor,” magazine advertisement, Confectioners Journal (Nov. 1922): 159.

[51] Untitled typewritten manuscript, undated, found in the Austin Community Collection, Special Collections and Preservation Division, Chicago Public Library, box 10, folder 12.

[52] The Story of Brach, 7.

[53] “The Fortieth Anniversary Story,” Brach Family Album, 11.

[54]Brach’s,” Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company, (accessed December 16, 2012).

[55] “The Nation’s Annual Candy Bill and What the Money Would Do If Expended in Other Directions,” New York Times, Jan. 2, 1910, sec. 5, p. 8.

[56] “The Nation’s Annual Candy Bill.”

[57] E. J. Brach and Sons, “Four Great Brach Factories Dedicated to Making Quality Candies,” newspaper advertisement, Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1920, E12.

[58] Klokis, “Palace of Sweets,” 82.

[59] “Edwin J. Brach, 77, Head of Candy Firm in Chicago,” New York Times, Jan. 29, 1965, 29.

[60] “Since 1904 … Nearly a Half Century of Brach Progress,” Brach Review of 1948 (Chicago: E. J. Brach and Sons, 1948): 6–10.

[61] Chicago City Directory (Chicago: Chicago Directory Company, 1900), 297.

[62] Albert Nelson Marquis, The Book of Chicagoans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the City of Chicago (Chicago: A. N. Marquis and Company, 1911): 80.

[63] “Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916–1947,” entry for Katherine M. Brach, November 4, 1924, Illinois Public Board of Health Archives, Illinois Public Board of Health Archives, Springfield, Illinois, accessed on FamilySearch.org (December 20, 2012).

[64] Marquis, Book of Chicagoans, 80.

[65] Newspaper advertisement for Brach’s Chocolate Almond Bars, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 4, 1920, F12.

[66] Al Chase, “Huge Plant to Make Chicago Candy Center,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 3, 1922, A13.

[67] Chase, “Huge Plant.”

[68] “The Progress of Brach.” Brach Review of 1947, 6.

[69] The Story of Brach, 24–25.

[70] Untitled typewritten manuscript, undated, found in the Austin Community Collection, Special Collections and Preservation Division, Chicago Public Library, Box 10, Folder 12.

[71] “Obituaries: Mrs. Marie H. Brach,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 14, 1964, A10.

[73] M. L. Cohen, “Brach and Brock Confections, Inc,” in International Directory of Company Histories, ed. Tina Grant, vol. 15 (Detroit: St. James Press, 1996): 63–65, here 64.

[74] Christine Haughney, “When Economy Sours, Tootsie Rolls Soothe Souls,” New York Times, March 24, 2009, A1.

[75] “The Story of Brach,” Brach’s Record Album, 3.

[76] Chase, “Large Chicago Candy Plant,” 27.

[77] Philip P. Gott, L. F. Van Houten, et al., All About Candy and Chocolate (Chicago: National Confectioners’ Association of the United States, 1958): 24-25.

[78] Untitled graphic, Brach Family Album (Chicago: E. J. Brach and Sons, 1944), 14.

[79] “Eggs for Our Allies,” Brach Family Album (Chicago: E. J. Brach and Sons, 1944), 17.

[80] E. J. Brach and Sons, “New Prizes Everyone Wants!” Brach News, June 1946, 4.

[81] “The Story of Brach,” Brach’s Record Album, 3.

[82] “The Brach Honor Roll,” Brach News, June 1945, 8.

[83] Holli, “German-American Ethnic Identity,” passim.

[84] Holli, “German-American Ethnic Identity,” 8.

[85] The Story of Brach, 5.

[86] “Brach Advertising Leads the Candy World!” Brach's Record Album (Chicago: E. J. Brach and Sons, 1946): 13–15.

[87] “Brach Advertising Leads,” Brach's Record Album, 13–15.

[88] Chase, “Large Chicago Candy Plant,” 27; and Egelhof, “Candy Makers Know Value of a Brand Name,” 1.

[89] “Emil Brach, Candy Company Head, Dies,” The Billboard, Nov. 8, 1947: 90.

[90] George F. Dudik, Confectionery Sales and Distribution, 1944 (U.S. Department of Commerce: Washington D.C., 1945), 75.

[91] “We ‘Get Into the Swing’ … Wherever We Are,” Brach’s Record Album (Chicago: E. J. Brach and Sons, 1946), 4.

[92] “The Fortieth Anniversary Story,” Brach Family Album, 7.

[93] “The Progress of Brach.” Brach Review of 1947, 5.

[94] “Since 1904,” Brach Review of 1948, 6-10.

[95] “Obituaries: Emil J. Brach,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 31, 1947, 34.

[96]Untitled typewritten manuscript, undated, found in the Austin Community Collection, Chicago Public Library, Box 10, Folder 12.

[97] Cohen, “Brach and Brock,” 64.

[98] “Brach (E. J.) & Sons,” The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago.

[99] “Brach's fill giant sweet tooth,” Chicago Sun-Times, May 20, 1991, 45.

[100] “Brach,” National Cyclopedia, 360.

[101] “Edwin J. Brach,” New York Times, 29.

[102] “Brach,” National Cyclopedia, 361.

[103] “Frank V. Brach Dies,” Chicago Tribune, 19.

[104] Robert Enstad, “Brach Date of Death Gets Settled,” Chicago Tribune, May 24, 1984, B1.

[105] United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, “United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Richard Bailey, Defendant-Appellant,” No. 95-2504, argued Sep. 3, 1996 to Oct. 9, 1996, (accessed online February 3, 2013). See also Matt O’Connor, “Bailey Gets Life; Brach Link Cited Legal Maneuver Delays Sentence,” Chicago Tribune, June 7, 1995, 1.

[106] Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, “Sugar Blues: As the Sweetener’s High Price Drives Candy Makers from Chicago, the 5,000 Idled Workers Face a Sour Job Market,” Chicago Tribune, July 10, 2005.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Emil Julius Brach
  • Coverage 1859-1947
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date July 17, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018