12/14/2010 06:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Reyne Gauge: The History of the Candy Cane

You might be surprised to know that the candy cane, or concept of, was not created by a large American candy manufacturer.

The candy cane actually dates back to the 17th century, when the European Christians were celebrating Christmas by decorating trees with food and candy type items. Originally, they were sugar stick candy. In 1670, a choirmaster in German bent the stick candy to represent a shepherd's staff. They were given to the children during the nativity services at church to keep them busy. Then candy canes were solid white.

The act of handing out candy canes during the holiday services became quite popular and spread all across Europe. We did not see the candy cane in America until the mid-1800s. A German immigrant in Ohio named August Imgard decorated his Christmas tree with candy canes.

No one is exactly sure who added the red stripes to the candy cane. Images of candy canes on postcards and Christmas cards prior to 1900 all illustrate a white cane; however, images dating after 1900 begin showing the red and white striped canes we know today. It was after 1900 that candy cane manufacturers began experimenting with peppermint flavoring in their candy canes. Apparently, this flavor was a hit with consumers.

One of the first companies to mass produce the candy cane in the United States was Bob's Candies of Georgia. "Bob" didn't set out to produce candy for consumers; he started out making candy canes with the red stripes for friends in the 1920s. Eventually his plans were to sell to shopkeepers, but making candy canes was very time-consuming, and he quickly realized he would be unable to sell beyond the local stores.

Bob's brother, Gregory Keller, determined they needed something to produce candy canes faster. He created a machine to expedite the procedure and today Bob's Candies has become the largest producer of candy canes in the world. Bob's Candies was also one of the first companies to use cellophane to protect their candy from moisture damage.

And just how popular is the candy cane in the 21st century? It is estimated 1.7 billion candy canes are sold every year!