Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Origin of Jimmies aka Chocolate Sprinkles

Growing up in Massachusetts, when I’d order an ice cream cone, I’d usually be asked if I wanted jimmies on top. Jimmies are basically tiny bits of chocolate-flavored candy, and are also known as “chocolate sprinkles” and “chocolate shots.” Many of the ice cream shops offered these jimmies as a free addition to your ice cream. They would also be sprinkled atop the whipped cream on your sundae. My mom sometimes bought jimmies at the grocery store so we could add them to our ice cream at home, or sprinkle them atop cookies and other desserts. 

When did jimmies, these sugary confections, originate? Who invented them? How did they acquire that name?

Many articles put forth the theory that jimmies were invented by the Just Born Co., a candy company originally located in Brooklyn, New York. This company claims to have both invented and named the product, sometime during the early 1930s. In 1930, they hired a new worker, Jimmy Bartholomew, who worked on their new machine, which basically produced chocolate sprinkles. At some point, the owners allegedly decided to name their "new" creation after this James, and thus “jimmies” were supposedly born.

However, this theory falls apart under closer scrutiny. First, chocolate sprinkles existed before their alleged creation by Just Born Co. So there's no way they could have invented them. Second, the term “jimmies” also appears to predate their alleged naming by Just Born. I also believe Just Born actually adopted the term “jimmies” from others when they relocated their factory to Pennsylvania. I haven't seen any other articles make this Pennsylvania connection before. 

Jimmies appear to first have been known as “chocolate shots,” at least as far back as 1915. The earliest reference I found was in The Gazette (Montreal, Canada), May 26, 1915, which had an advertisement for Almy’s,Montreal’s Largest Store.” The ad stated, “Ask for Chocolate Shots for covering cakes. ¼ pound, 15 cents.

The Dayton Daily News (OH), March 24, 1916, also had an ad for a Soda Fountain special “R-K Chocolate-Shot Sundae” for 10 cents.” With a little more detail, the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News (NY), April 13, 1916, printed a restaurant ad that noted, “Chocolate Shot is a delightful new form of pure chocolate which is used on the sundaes at the Fountain and Smith Brothers Restaurant.” So, we at least know they were once made from chocolate.

There was an intriguing ad in the Indianapolis News (IN), March 29, 1917, for Peter’s Candies, that highlighted, “The Latest War Craze. The Shrapnel Bon Bon” which was “Loaded with delicious Chocolate Shot” and sold for 15 cents. Obviously the tiny bits of chocolate within the bonbon would give the impression of shrapnel. The Indianapolis Star (IN), March 29, 1917, had the above ad for Shrapnel Bon Bons.

The term “chocolate shots” would continue to be used over the years, and still is sometimes used, but another term would start being more prominent, “chocolate sprinkles.”

The earliest mention appears to be in Chicago Tribune (IL), May 1, 1921, in a job listing for a salesman to sell products to soda fountains, confections and the drug trade. The primary product was “Chocolate Sprinkles,” noted to be “the newest and fastest selling specialty of large chocolate manufacturer.” The identity of that manufacturer wasn’t provided but later evidence will indicate it was the Stollwerck Chocolate Co.

There were multiple other listings during 1921, and it appears that this might have been the year the product was introduced into the market. The Sun (KS), May 19, 1921, briefly mentioned, “Special for Saturday at the 99 cent Store fountain—Chocolate Sprinkles.” The Brattleboro Daily Reformer (VT), June 3, 1921, had an ad for Wilbur F. Root & Son, noting they had Chocolate Sprinkles at their fountain.

Its use with ice cream was referenced. The Visalia Times-Delta (CA), June 4, 1921, published an ad for Valley Ice Cream Co., describing their new “Choc-O-Van ice cream”, which was “…made of Chocolate Sprinkles combined in just the right proportion with Vanilla Ice Cream.” The Cobleskill Index (NY), June 23, 1921, printed an ad for Vincent Florio’s, mentioning a new product, the “Combination Brick. Chocolate Sprinkle and Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream in Pints of Quarts.”

More details about the origins of “chocolate sprinkles” were provided in The Meyer Druggist, June-July 1921. The magazine stated, “For Your Fountain. Chocolate Sprinkles. Entirely new—the distinct novelty of the season—Increases trade and adds to your profit. What Are They? Highly finished particles of best quality vanilla chocolate—retaining their taste and appearance—and do not melt. Over sixty spoonfuls per pound. What They Do. Use as a topping on all kinds of sundaes—whipped cream—ice cream also as a decoration for candy, cakes, and various fountain dishes.”

This indicates the sprinkles were a new product, or at least under a different name rather than chocolate shots. We also see they were made of vanilla chocolate, although a description of what that constitutes wasn’t provided. It might refer to what we know better as white chocolate, although there is some ambiguity as to whether white chocolate existed at that point in time or not. Otherwise, it might just refer to vanilla-flavored chocolate. In addition, we see their versatility, from atop a sundae to its use as decorations for other treats.

The magazine continued, noting that a 5 lb. tin of chocolate sprinkles was available for $5.00, and it could be used to top 300 sundaes, which usually cost 5 cents. So, the business would sell those 300 sundaes for $15.00, making a $10.00 profit on those sprinkles. Although that profit wasn’t adjusted for the cost of all the other ingredients used for the sundae.

Finally, it was mentioned that these chocolate sprinkles were “Perfected and made solely by The Stollwerck Chocolate Co.,” which had offices in Stamford, Connecticut and Chicago, Illinois. With an office in New England, it makes sense why chocolate sprinkles would be so popular in this region. 

Stollwerck is a German chocolate manufacturer, which was established by Franz Stollwerck in 1839. It eventually expanded operations, becoming the second largest producer of chocolate in the U.S. by the start of the 20th century. Stollwerck appears to have been the company which invented the name “chocolate sprinkles,” and probably based them on the pre-existing “chocolate shots.” Better to differentiate their product from existing ones. 

More ice cream with sprinkles. The Times (IN), July 2, 1921, presented an ad for Summers Pharmacy and their “Hawaiian Beauty: Vanilla ice cream, crushed pineapple, pineapple ice, pink marshmallow, pecans topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles.” It cost 25 cents plus 3 cents tax. The Oshkosh Northwestern (WI), September 30, 1921, had an ad for Carver Ice Cream Co. and their “Palm Beach. Layer Chocolate Sprinkles, Layer Orange Ice, Layer Vanilla Cream.”

During 1922, both chocolate shots and chocolate sprinkles were mentioned in a variety of newspapers across the country. The Hartford Courant (CT), April 8, 1922, printed a small ad mentioning the sale of Chocolate Shot, for “Use with desserts, ice cream, etc. 37 cents a can.” The St. Louis Star & Times (MO), June 2, 1922, posted an advertisement for the Famous-Barr Co. store, that now sold, “A New Marshmallow Package—containing fresh Marshmallow covered with chopped nuts, chocolate sprinkles, or toasted coconut.”

In the Star Tribune (MN), June 17, 1922, another ad mentioned Chocolate Shot, for cakes, ice cream, etc., at 89 cents a pound. The La Crosse Tribune (WI), November 12, 1922, referenced a “Sunday Special: Brick—Quaker Special. A solid brick of Vanilla imbedded with Chocolate Sprinkles. At all dealers. Tri-State Ice Cream, Corp.”

The North Adams Transcript (MA), November 24, 1922, noted “Chocolate Shot for Cake, Ice Cream, etc. Both these products made in Holland. Very fine.” We see then that some chocolate shots were imported from Holland, which could indicate that was a possible origin place for the chocolate shots.

The Chicago Tribune (IL), November 24, 1922, published an ad which stated, “Chocolate Sprinkle Slices—Saturday Only—The daintiest pastries, combining butter sponge, velvety cream and a unique overlay of chocolate ‘shots.’ Each 25 cents.” And the Bridgeport Telegram (CT), December 8, 1922, had an ad for the Grocerteria, “Something New!! Chocolate Sprinkles. 10 cents pkg. Made by Stollwerck Chocolate Co.” The ad continued, “This is decidedly something new and you will certainly like it. It is fine for Cakes, Puddings, Sauces and Candies.”

The Tyrone Daily Herald (PA), March 23, 1923, published an ad for the M&M Store, which sold Chocolate Sprinkles, “A Stollwerck product of dainty sweet chocolate bits, for sprinkling over ice cream, deserts, etc.” It was 10 cents a package.

The year 1923 is also important as that is when Sam Born, who came from Russia, established the Just Born Co., a small candy shop and factory in Brooklyn, New York. The “Just Born” name was intended to signify that their candies were made fresh each day. At this time, “chocolate sprinkles” already existed in the U.S. and it’s hard to believe that Born was unaware of them. They were a hot item in the couple years prior to the opening of his store. 

There's no way his company invented chocolate sprinkles. At best, he might be able to lay claim to naming them “jimmies” but that claim is suspect as well. The story told by Just Born is that in 1930, they hired James Bartholemew to operate their chocolate sprinkles machine. At some unspecified time during the 1930s, Sam wanted to create a new name for these sprinkles, probably to set his product apart from those being made and sold by Stollwerck. 

Sam allegedly decided to name the sprinkles after his employee James, and thus called them “jimmies.” It seems logical that this name change didn’t occur until James had been working at the candy factory for some length of time. Who would name a product after a brand-new employee, who hadn’t proven himself yet, or even proven he would remain working at the factory for any length of time? The company itself doesn't provide any firm dates of the naming, merely that it occurred sometime in the early 1930s. 

The timing is very important here, as “jimmies” were mentioned in the newspapers in 1930, thus predating the term’s use by Just Born Co. So, not only did someone else create chocolate sprinkles, but someone else also coined the term “jimmies.” It's also likely that someone in Pennsylvania came up with the term "jimmies," as that is where the first two documented uses of the term can be found. Unfortunately, there's no mention of why chocolate sprinkles were renamed jimmies at this time. 

The Tyrone Daily Herald (PA), April 12, 1930, published an ad for Gardner’s Candy store, which read, “Chicks and Rabbits Made of the Very Best Solid Milk Chocolate. Also ‘Orphan Ann,’ ‘Jimmies,’ ‘Bozo’ and many other members of the milk chocolate family.” So, jimmies appear to have been made from milk chocolate. 

More detail was provided in the Pittsburgh Press (PA), December 4, 1930, in an ad for McCann’s stores, about their “Butter Sponge Layer” cake, which sold for 60 cents. “Here’s a cake so delicious and good you simply can’t resist it. A smoothly textured, feather light sponge covered with creamy butter frosting and chocolate jimmies. In case you don’t know what “’jimmies’ are…tiny chocolate candies.”

If the term jimmies was originally restricted to Pennsylvania, then the Just Born, Co. might not have heard the term when they were in Brooklyn. However, in 1932, they moved their entire operation to an old plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, planning to employ about 100 people. Thus, the Just Born, Co., which relocated to Pennsylvania would then have likely heard of jimmies, and might have decided to adopt that term for their own chocolate sprinkles, figuring it would appeal to their local customers who already knew the nature of jimmies.

Over time, the Just Born Co. developed a myth about the creation of jimmies, trying to claim primacy in its creation and naming. However, they lack definitive evidence from around the time of the alleged creation, and pre-existing shots and sprinkles make it clear they couldn’t have invented the product. And the first documented references to “jimmies”in 1930 in Pennsylvania cast further doubt on Just Born’s claims. 

Whatever you call them, jimmies, chocolate sprinkles, or chocolate shots, their origins go back at least to 1915, when they first were referred to as chocolate shots. Around 1921, the term chocolate sprinkles made its first appearance, and appear to have been named by the Sollwerck Chocolate Co. By 1930, the term jimmies made its first appearance in Pennsylvania, and that seems a likely spot for its origin. The claims of Just Born Co. don't hold weight, even though it might sounds like an interesting story.   

Do you enjoy jimmies on an ice cream cone or sundae?  

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