Necco Wafers | History

Made in New England since 1847, Necco Wafers are a classic American candy with nostalgic appeal.

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If taste is linked to memory, then one of the easiest ways to jump back to childhood is to eat a Necco Wafer, America’s oldest continuously manufactured candy.

Even tearing the paper to unroll the tube does it — the puff of powdered sugar and mingling flavor-scents, both sweet and spicy, hitting your nose. Lemon? Wintergreen? Chocolate? Yes, the combination can seem odd by today’s candy standards, but the flavor blend is a familiar one if you grew up eating Necco Wafers, and just one bite (which is more of a “SNAP”) makes the time-travel complete.

For your tastebuds, anyway.

necco wafers

Necco Wafers are a New England made American classic.

Necco Wafers are proudly made using the candy’s original formula (they leave modern influences to the brand’s ever-changing Sweethearts “conversation hearts” each Valentine’s Day), but despite the classic approach they’ve held on to their place at the checkout next to richer, fattier, and fruitier candies. Nostalgia aside, I suspect that Necco Wafer’s exceptional use as gingerbread house shingles, edible poker chips, or practice hosts for a first communion helps keep wafer sales strong, and it’s likely the wafers partnered with the aforementioned Sweethearts (the top-selling Valentine’s Day candy) that bring in enough to keep the company’s many brands (including Mary Janes, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Candy Buttons, Clark Bars, Sky Bars, Haviland Mints, and more) going — much to the delight of many classic candy consumers.

Here’s a little background info. The wafers are made by the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO…see that?) in Revere, MA, but while NECCO the company wasn’t formed until 1901, the wafer candies have been made the exact same way since 1847. That means that while Abraham Lincoln was in the White House and Thomas Edison was inventing the light bulb, the familiar rolls of flavored wafers were for sale (wouldn’t you like to guess which flavor would have been each man’s favorite?). During the early 20th century explorers took them to the Arctic and the South Pole, while the army sent them to soldiers overseas during WWII because the wafers didn’t melt or spoil.

necco ad 1922

A Necco Wafers newspaper ad from 1922.

The original flavor lineup (orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice, and wintergreen) hasn’t budged, but if you want, you can also buy rolls of just chocolate Necco wafers, and another variety that I’ve never seen, Tropical Necco Wafers, which have coconut, passion fruit, strawberry, lime, banana, and mango flavors. Curious about how the wafers are made? Check out the “How Necco Wafers are Made” photo page on the NECCO website.

While it’s true that there are many folks who find Necco Wafers chalky and bland (the candy routinely come in last alongside the marshmallow circus peanut on the annual list of “What’s the worst Halloween candy?”), the wafers also have their loyal fans that will buy them as long as NECCO keeps making them, and they do. Approximately 4 billion wafers a year are produced and sold — all without advertising! — for a candy recipe from the days of the Mexican–American War. It’s hard to beat that…

So which camp do you belong to? Necco lover or not? Personally, I can’t get enough of the clove.

necco candy

Comments
  • My great aunt (who passed away in 2001) worked there for years. Not quite sure what she did, but I know she liked it. If you can believe it, when I was going through preparation for my First Communion back in 1978, the nun used NECCO wafers as the “host” because they’re the same size and shape :)

    Great piece!

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  • When I was young the sweets did not come often but every so often we were allowed to pick a candy we liked when we went to the local grocery. Necco wafers were always my favorite. I could make them last for a very long time enjoying them a little wafer at a time. I think my favorite was the green wafer and the least favorite the white. Have not had them for a very long time but after seeing this I may pick some up just to see if my taste buds have changed!

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  • I have been eating these since I was little! Always liked pink, white and purple best! Unfortunately the conversation hearts dont have the same spicy flavors anymore. Thank goodness I can still get the wafers. Have 2 rolls sitting next to me right now! Lol!!!

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  • I love them still…the licorice is my favorite…and I’ll buy them fairly frequently to keep in the center console of my car for a midafternoon pick-me-up on the way home…

    PS-I love circus peanuts too, don’t care if they’re the least liked Halloween candy ever….

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  • Necco wafers! I always saw them in my neighborhood 7-11 as a kid but never picked any up. Lack of fancy packaging I guess. Had I known they were made by the makers of Sweethearts I would have picked some up! Will be on the lookout next time I’m at the grocery store. Great article!

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  • My Dad, K E Lumbert, worked for NECCO before he met & married my Mother. I am there only daughter, & now live in Venice, FL. Interestingly, I have found & bought the NECCO Wafers at a restuarant in Sarasota, FL called Der Dutchman (Troyers). I’m eating one now. YUM!!!!!!

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  • So many memories of necco wafers. My mother and grandmother always had them in their purses. They were a great treat to keep the kids from fidgeting during something “adult” but then my sisters and I would fight over the colors. I honestly never knew which flavor was which other than the chocolate

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  • I always bought Necco Wafers when I went to the movies as a kid. They lasted the whole movie and I even had some to take home. I don’t go to the movies very often now, but will buy some the next time I do.

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  • LICORICE was and is my favorite! Got hooked on them when 6 years old ~ am now 83! ” I’d walk a mile for a roll of Licorice flavored wafers” BUT the only place I can get them now is at the Dollar Store where they now cost .79 cents ~ then also at ‘Cracker Barrel’ where they sell for over a dollar!!! Wonder why they never made them in COFFEE flavor?!

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  • Love this story …. Had Necco wafers growing up … they are the best …
    Can never pass them up …

    Thank you for all the info … did not know they were that old.

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  • One of my favorite trivia questions while driving by the warehouse (I-90?) is: “What does NECCO stand for?” Always a goodie (pun intended).

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  • I’m the eldest of 8 children. My mom would buy us Necco Wafers on grocery day. We all opened them up and began trading with each other for our favorite flavors. It was a lot of fun. I always traded for the licorice, that being my favorite.

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  • …while I’ve never been the BIGGEST fan..I’ve liked them (Sweet Hearts included) off and on…this oldest US brand’s only older counterpart in US is Britain’s Altoids, since 1780, now available just like US brands, straight at any store near you…..I didn’t know that Necco made so many other candies (Mary janes….some cynics will say “yeah…it figures since they made the wafers”..I’ll leave those peanut butter candy named after a show brand to others..)

    I recall the Clark Bars (their answer to Butterfinger’s type of candy from a major competitor. Can you imagine Lisa Simpson switching Bart Simpson’s Butterfinger that he used to shill on TV for a Clark Bar..:))

    Yeah…I remember the buttons too…When I used to eat the Necco Wafers, I did like the chocolate and cloves..

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  • (raised hand)..had 21 wafers over the last 5 weeks (incl.one every day in last week’s Vegas vacation!:))

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  • I used to eat them in bed under the covers. If you snap them in half static electricity makes a little lightening bolt!!!!

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  • OMG! Coffee would be SPECTACULAR. Rhode Islanders (even expat RIslanders like me) grow up on coffee syrup!

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  • Michael

    and they make great target for kids with a BB gun or pellet gun

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  • My dad also worked there in the 30’s but today us in a nursing home and one of his favorite treats are rolls of NECCO wafers. Note* Market Basket has them for $.50 ea. Which is much less than those that sell them as “classic” candies.

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  • You know you’re a New Englander if you know that Wednesday is “Prince Spaghetti Day”

    or

    …if you know “how many cookies did Andrew eat?” Answer “Andrew ate 8000” (AN8-8000)

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  • Favorite candy, ever….when my son was young (now 60 yrs.) he used to take all the white ones and play “priest” giving communion…..he will kill me for telling this story !!!!!

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  • My father and his brothers owned a trucking company they worked along with other candy companys in Mass area.

    They also worked with the NECCO family. All the candy company’s new everyone’s family one time or another. Dad would always bring home the Necco wafers to me all the time.

    Now my brother owns our family company I do think he still works along side them up to this very day.

    Deb

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  • Licorice, clove and orange were always my favorite flavors. My Mom and Dad gave out rolls of NECCO wafers every Halloween to the trick or treaters. Those wafers are still a favorite treat.

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  • If you take a roll of Necco wafers under the bedcovers in complete darkness, hold one wafer between your two hands and snap it.

    And that is how early man discovered fire :)

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  • I have always loved them. Also use them for targets if you miss they eat good then too. also wount harm the envoriment.

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  • When my kids were young and money was tight, I would buy them Necco wafers on grocery day. My house is where all the neighborhood kids played. One day I was working in the bedrooms and I could hear the kids playing in the living room. My oldest son about six, had a very solemn voice so I tiptoed out to investigate. He was playing Mass on the coffee table and the kids, my other three and several other kids were solemnly sitting on the couch. He blessed the neccos then the kids lined up and he ceremoniously put a wafer on the tongue of each kid. I hope this doesn’t sound sacrilegious to practicing Catholics. I was pleased that it was so solemnly done.

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  • Richard

    Use to eat Necco Wafers as a small child, still do and I am seventy six.

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  • Domenic

    Spent forty two years working and running NECCO (New England Confectionery Co.) Built New Plant in Revere, Ma. in 2000. Wonderful plant associates, great spirit and the makers of aprox. 704 different types of Candy. Most famous Necco Wafers, Sweethearts, Skybar, Mary Jane, Clark Bar, Sqirrel, Haviland Thin Mints, Mighty Malts, Candy Cupboard Chocolates. Special Company and People.

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  • When I was little, I remember my Dad always LOVING these candies. Now, when I’m in a store and see them, I will buy them and remember Dad. They last a long time and have so many great flavors! Now I know why my Dad loved them – and I do too!

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  • I love Necco wafers too, but my favorite candy by far that NECCO produces is the Skybar. Have lived south of the Mason Dixon line since 1992, and Skybars are as scarce as hen’s teeth here in TX. Every time I’m back in NE I always make a point of picking one up….heaven in a candy bar!!!

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  • My mom loved NECCO wafers and ate them all the time. I preferred the chocolate ones and she was a die-hard licorice fan. When she passed away in 2009, We had her buried with a roll of NECCO wafers in her hand.

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  • I am not the biggest fan of NECCO wafers, but always used them to make a pretty tiled roof on gingerbread houses for Christmas. I would love to try the tropical flavors, though and am going to have to track them down. Skybar, on the other hand, is fabulous. Can be tough to find, but someone told me the company doesn’t make/ship them in the summer, as the fillings would melt out of the bars. I always look for them at Stop&Shop when cooler weather sets in!

    Reply

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