Perhaps the most alluring of all childhood treats, cotton candy no doubt occupies a special place in the hearts of many. It conjures up images of carnivals and rides and other larger than life events that make childhood so special.
However one thing it most likely doesn’t conjure up, is an image of fifteenth century Italy. For it is a little known fact that cotton candy can be traced back to this period.
Known as spun sugar during this time, cotton candy was made by melting sugar in a large pot or pan and then dipping a fork into the mixture. Once coated in sugar, the fork would then be removed and swung back and forth rapidly in order to quickly cool the dripping sugar. As it cooled and moved downwards, it would create very fine strands of what we now call cotton candy. This would then be served as a dessert.
For hundreds of years this method would be used to create and augment all sorts of candy. It was quite popular for example to adorn existing candy with a layer of spun sugar. These were considered somewhat of a delicacy however and the proletariat at large did not have access to such luxuries.
This would all change in 1897 though with the construction of the world’s first true cotton candy machine. Created by William Morrison and John C. Wharton, this machine automated the entire process. It would melt the sugar, allow the addition of flavoring and color, and by utilizing centrifugal force would push the melted sugar towards special screens that would force the mixture through in such a way that it would cool quickly and create the famous strands. These strands would then be collected into a bowl and could then be twirled onto a paper cone by the operator. They dubbed it fairy floss, and after receiving a patent in 1899 they unveiled it commercially at the St. Louis State fair in 1904.
While it is generally accepted that William Morrison and John C. Wharton invented the modern cotton candy machine, their claim does not go uncontested. In fact, the city of New Orleans claims that a local dentist by the name of Josef Lascaux is the true inventor of the cotton candy machine, and indeed of modern cotton candy itself.
In any case, it wouldn’t be until the 1920’s before the term cotton candy would gain widespread popularity. And even now it is called fairy floss in some parts of the world. But no matter where it is or what it’s called, children everywhere (and adults too) are enjoying it.
The Long and Illustrious History of Cotton Candy
Cotton Candy History