The Oldest Candy Company In The US Has Been Making Sweets Since 1806

For most people, Salem, Massachusetts, conjures up images of witches and colonial horror, but its long history also involves something a little more sweet. The frightening past of this nearly 400-year-old town makes it one of the Halloween capitals of America, and a visit there today will also show you that it's just as special when it comes to the other half of the holiday season: candy. Salem is home to the oldest candy company in America, Ye Olde Pepper Companie, which has been selling its old-school wares since 1806.

The story of Ye Olde Pepper Companie starts with some bad luck but quickly blossoms into a classic American success story. The business began with a woman from England, Mary Spencer, who sailed for America only to be stranded in Salem after a shipwreck. By chance, Mrs. Spencer was a confectioner by trade, and when her neighbors found this out, they supposedly donated a barrel of sugar to help her get on her feet. Spencer was the creator of one of Ye Olde Pepper Companie's first successful treats, Salem Gibraltars — a lemon-flavored hard candy that softens in your mouth — which she sold on the steps of the church (and which are still sold in the shop). The image of Spencer sitting on a horse and wagon selling candy remains the company's logo to this day. The business eventually passed to her son, but planning to return to England, he sold it to the family that would lend the candy company its name: the Peppers.

Ye Olde Pepper Companie of Salem, Massachusetts, still delights visitors with sweet treats

The Pepper family guided the candy company to great success in the 19th century, opening up a separate manufacturing plant in Peabody, Massachusetts. They also produced the second confection that would go on to make their company famous, Black Jacks — a molasses candy made with deliberately burned maple syrup that was created to appeal to masculine tastes at the time and also made another kind of history as the first stick-shaped candy to be popularized in America. In the early 20th century, the business was sold to George Burkinshaw, who had worked for the candy company and the Peppers since he was a young boy. The Burkinshaws still own Ye Olde Pepper Companie today, and it is currently run by a fourth generation of the family.

For visitors to Salem who want a little break from witch-trial-related sites, Ye Olde Pepper Companie offers a tasty retreat. The shop is still located in its first storefront, and it now sells a wide array of candies — though the Burkinshaws have also kept their tradition of local candy-making going and continue to sell the popular Gibraltars and Black Jacks, both made with their original recipes. Unsurprisingly, Ye Olde Pepper Companie is popular to this day — with a second location in North Andover, Massachusetts — and remains a true destination for anyone who loves a little history with their candy.