The Inventor Of Cotton Candy Might Surprise You

Given the links between sugar and tooth decay, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the inventor of cotton candy was a dentist. Well, one of the inventors anyway. According to National Geographic, everyone's favorite spun sugar specialty food at fairs and carnivals was actually invented — at least in its modern form — by two men from Tennessee: dentist William Morrison and confectioner John C. Wharton.

Although the men first patented the machine for making cotton candy in 1897, it wasn't until 1904 that their fluffy, colorful treats caught on. That was the year of the St. Louis World Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, since it took place on the centennial of Thomas Jefferson's historical bargain (via Smithsonian). To say Morrison and Wharton were onto something is a bit of an understatement. Per the Tennessee State Museum, they sold 68,655 servings of their "fairy floss" at the World's Fair that year, when it vied for popularity with such new-fangled inventions as airplanes and X-ray machines.

The origins of cotton candy

Inventors Morrison and Wharton may have popularized cotton candy in its modern guise, but this airy, flavorful confection had actually been around, in one form or another, for close to five centuries. As author Tim Richardson details in his book "Sweets: A History of Candy," cotton candy was actually surprisingly pioneered by Italian cooks in the 15th century, using forks to wrap the spun sugar around broom handles (via National Geographic).

As HowStuffWorks explains, the genius of Morrison and Wharton was in inventing the machine we still see today, a funnel-shaped contrivance with a central head that rotates rapidly, allowing for the sugar to be melted into syrup and sprayed through small holes, cooling so quickly that it is unable to recrystallize, and instead becomes the candy version of spun glass that we all know and love.

It took another genius, however, to actually call it cotton candy. According to Candy History, that term originated with Josef Lascaux in the 1920s, and wouldn't you know it? He was a dentist, too! Somewhat surprisingly, the American Dental Association has never gotten around to censuring either Morrison or Lascaux. Well, maybe it's not so surprising. After all, cotton candy is delicious, and rather low in calories as well. A standard one-ounce serving is approximately 110 calories.