When I got the quiz the other night, one question stood out:
"Admiral Richard Byrd, a polar explorer, traveled to the South Pole
with 2 ½ tons of what candy – enough for each member of his team to eat nearly a pound per
week for their 2-year stay in Antarctica."
Full disclosure - I am one of the only people under 60 that I know who
actually love and enjoy NECCO Wafers - even the mysterious purple wafer.
(I found out a few years ago it's clove flavored.) I just wanted to
mention it in case you just want to respond telling me you think they
are horrible and disgusting. I won't be offended, but I will be a
little sad. . .
This South Pole/NECCO connection just sounded odd - I had to dig in.
Some quick Google searching found an almost identical passage on the NECCO website:
"In the 1930s, Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, a polar explorer, traveled to
the South Pole with 2 ½ tons of Necco Wafers in tow – his team had
nearly a pound per week for their 2-year stay in the Antarctic. "
As much as I love their candy, I am not sure I can count the company website as a reliable source.
Wikipedia had this passage in their entry on NECCO:
"In the 1930s, Richard E. Byrd famously took 2½ tons (2,300 kg) of NECCO
Wafers to the South Pole, nearly a 1 pound (0.45 kg) a week for each
man in his party, for their two-year stay in the Antarctic."
The footnote for this bit of info brought me to the Local Legacies section of the Library of Congress website.
When I followed that link, the Necco-Byrd connection shows up as:
"In the 1930s, Admiral Byrd took 2 1/2 tons of NECCO Wafers to the South
Pole, practically a pound a week for each of his men during their
two-year stay in the Antarctic."
At the bottom of the page was this note:
"Originally submitted by: Michael E. Capuano, Representative (8th District)."
It looks to me as if Rep. Capuano either used materials directly from
NECCO, or a site that took the information from the NECCO website. I
couldn't find anything that looked as if it came from outside of NECCO
I dug around and found a reference in an actual published book! It's Candy: The Sweet History by Beth Kimmerle. I found the passage in question on Google Books:
"Two and a half tons of NECCO Wafers went to Antarctica with Admiral
Byrd on an expedition as nutrition and treats for Eskimo children."
At first, I was happy to see SOME printed source for this.
Then I re-read that passage.
"Nutrition and treats for ESKIMO CHILDREN?" - was Byrd bringing a bunch of
Inuit kids thousands of miles south? Was he using them instead of sled
Random Aside - Inuit/Eskimos are from the freezing sections of furthest
North America. North Pole expedition? You'll probably encounter a few
more Inuit than elves on the way, but for the South Pole? No way. Antarctica has no native human population.
As the crow flies, Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina (closest inhabited land to Antarctica) is about 14,000 kilometers or 8,700 miles from Nunavut, Canada. That's a long way to travel for some candy . . .
(You probably knew all this, but my mom got confused when I mentioned this to her.)
So, I have some doubts about Ms. Kimmerle's research, and her index,
notes, sources, and bibliography are not accessible through Google
The question is this:
Can anyone verify that Byrd took NECCO Wafers on his expedition?
Can anyone find contemporary sources for this?
Or any sources of this that don't read as if they came right from NECCO's own corporate history?
I posted this (in a slightly different form) on ask.metafilter.com. (You can follow the entire original exchange here.)
The first good lead came when a MeFite told me about the Byrd Polar Research Center Archives at the Ohio State University.
After a little digging, I sent this email to Laura Kissel, the Polar Curator (best job title ever?) of the Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program at The Ohio State University:
"This is an odd question.
(I think that is the traditional opening for any random inquiry of a
librarian or archivist, right? Maybe I should hedge and type "This is
probably an odd question," but I know full well it is.). . . snipped intro of self, and metafilter thread . . . If you read all that, you'll see that I focused on the NECCO side of things, and neglected the Byrd side.
Within 30 seconds of posting there, (actually 5 minutes, but it seemed
that quick) a user named Zamboni pointed me to the Byrd archives at OSU.
I clicked and searched a bit, with no luck.
Zamboni is taking it much further, and posting interesting finds. . .snipped reposting of Zamboni's leads . . . So
here is the part where I ask you to do some work for me, an anonymous
dork on the internet for no pay, and little recognition.
Is there any evidence of Byrd having taken NECCO wafers on any expeditions at all?
I'm not looking for confirmation of the 2.5 tons, and certainly NOT
asking you to spend more than a few minutes on a cursory check, but any
information would be great. Thanks"
NOTE:I snipped out my attempt of bribery by offering her free
drinks at the bar trivia contest I run on Tuesdays in Akron - if you
want details, you can message me about that.
Her quick and elegant response (stitched from two separate emails):
"So you win the prize today for making me chuckle. And yes, all of
our questions are odd and off the wall! Having said this, I feel that I
must find the answer because I desperately want my free drink :).
Let me look into it and I’ll get back to you. Give me a day or two. I’ll need to have some files pulled and do a little hunting. . . . next bit from second email . . . . Of
course, post away! And feel free to name me, because as you said,
the info is out there. And we want people to find us! Frankly, I need
a new and interesting facebook entry, so I hope that we find evidence
of this Necco thing so I can put it on our fb page! Win-win."
Later, I got this reply from her:
"HI Rob – Just a quick update – I’m still looking for evidence of the
Necco wafers on Byrd’s expedition(s). You would be amazed as to how
many files would be possibilities for this info! So far no luck.
However, I just feel there is a kernel of truth in this story, so there
must be evidence, so I have not yet given up. Unfortunately, the
“candy” file did not contain any info about the Necco wafers (that
would have been just way too easy!).
For your enjoyment, I’ve attached a food list that I found. No Necco
wafers, but lots of other stuff! Must be hard to pack enough food for 2
P.s. Thanks for the facebook shout out – we’ve gained lots of new “likes”!" (note: I added the link to their Facebook page.)
She sent me a 15 page PDF titled "Byrd6324_foodlistBAEII.pdf."
It is a scan of typewritten list with handwritten annotations that was used to prepare for Byrd's second Antarctic expedition.
(I think. I am having Laura clarify, and I asked her for permission to upload it to Scribd so you can all enjoy it, also.)
No NECCO by name, but it is full of gems.
Here's a taste:
100 Cases Soda Crackers - 50 lbs. to case
handwritten next to this is "nice to have but don't purchase"
3 Cases Ovaltine - 100 lb. to case
page 15 (handwritten under "MISCELLENAEOUS - if donated."
200 lbs. Cracker Jack
and my favorite from page 12:
1000 lb. Pop Corn
The 1000 is crossed out. Next to this entry is handwritten "75lbs. (red checkmark) + 75 (red checkmark) +--- This is enough
The +----- is meant to indicate an arrow. I'd use the arrow bracket, but the interweb wants to save that for the HTML tags.
Later, from Laura:
"I think that you are right – this is some kind of working list and
the annotations are more than likely what they decided to take. There
are literally hundreds (thousands?) of pieces of paper documenting the
stuff that went. I’m not sure if there is a comprehensive list
someplace or not…. Piecing it together may be possible but it would be
more time consuming than either one of us would like – files upon files
of stuff that was donated vs. stuff that was purchased; files of the
equipment and supplies, then broken down into various categories; files
of donors (cash? Stuff? Can’t tell unless you pull it and take a look…)
That’s why I like the list that I sent you – because it is an actual
Regarding your other questions- Byrd’s expeditions were privately funded
until the 1939-41 US Antarctic Expedition. Byrd raised the money for
his expeditions up until this time period. He had a lot of financial
contributors as well as companies that donated products. He also wrote
and sold his books and lectured (for a fee) about his expeditions. He
referred to it as “this hero business.” One gets the sense that maybe
he didn’t love it, but he had to do it in order to pay for his
expeditions. Copyright is a complicated cluster of rules, but here is
my big thing – people need to know where you got it, so the citation
information needs to be clear – and you can’t profit from our stuff
without our permission. We’ve got forms that you need to complete for
that, and yes a small fee must be paid. So if you decided to make a
coffee mug, let’s say, with Byrd’s face on it, derived from one of our
photos, you gotta pay us for that. (Mind you, our fees are very
minimal, but you get the idea.) So – yes, go ahead and post the list,
and just make sure that people know it came from us, file #6324 in the
Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd.
Haven’t given up yet on finding evidence of Necco…."
and more a few days later:
Well, I don’t give up easily, but I give up. I’ve been through all of
the logical files for 3 Byrd Antarctic Expeditions – BAE I 1928-1930;
BAE II 1933-1935; and the US Antarctic Service Exped. 1939-1941, and I
find no evidence of the NECCO connection. I also looked for random
correspondence with the New England Confectionary Co. and/or Oliver R.
Chase of Chase and Co., and with no luck. Please note, just because I
did not find it, doesn’t mean it isn’t so – but I am a little bothered
that there was just nothing in our files to connect Byrd to NECCO. I
found so much other correspondence and lists upon lists of foodstuffs,
etc. It is interesting, as you have already pointed out, that the
various “sources” all seem to be quoting the same identical fact,
almost verbatim. Maybe the NECCO people can provide some substantiated
Sorry :) . It’s more fun when I can actually find the documentation.
Looks as if the polar angle has turned out to be. . .
. . . for the Byrds.
(It's probably clear that I need to get out more.)
This doesn't mean I am going to stop, but I'll have to tack back to the NECCO side of things.
Some searching led me to an excellent blog The Candy Professor, written by Samira Kawash,
PhD. She is a Professor Emerita from Rutgers, my alma mater, and
writes extensively about candy, culture and history. You can see some
samples at her blog, or here are several articles she wrote for The Atlantic.
I'm going to write to her - she has several posts about NECCO on her blog. One post in particular, and she also steered my towards a book by Louis Untermayer. It's called "A
Century of Candymaking, 1847-1947: The Story of the Origin and Growth
of the New England Confectionery Company Which Parallels that of the
Candy Industry in America" . Google Books has scanned the volume, but it is in copyright (under copyright?) and so I get teeny tiny maddening glances. Byrd shows up twice:
“In modern times such hardy explorers as Byrd and MacMillan also
realized the value of candy as a source of quick energy. MacMillan took” (preview cuts off)
“. . . South Pole and with MacMillan on his expeditions to Eskimo land. You can find them at the corner store.” (Preview doesn't actually show Byrd, but is probably right above the selection shown?)
I altered the search a few different ways. The best result was by searching for MacMillan, but it only gave me the two above, and this:
Page 82 (Apparently a timeline of Necco candy?)
“1913 Donald MacMillan, explorer, takes
Necco Wafers on his Arctic expedition, using them for nutrition and as
rewards to Eskimo children.”
That line is copied verbatim on NECCO’s own timeline , except for changing the capitalization of “Necco” to NECCO and adding a “®” symbol.
What is interesting is that this timeline page does NOT mention Byrd at all.
I used an online library catalog and found copies of the book as close as Cleveland, but that's a bit of a hike - I know it will be forever and a day before I get up there...
(September 2013 update - More than a year, and I haven't been there yet.)
On September 4, I got another update from Laura:
"So – I rather skimmed over the MacMillan thread before, but maybe
this is the ticket. MacMillan and Byrd were together on an expedition
to Greenland in 1925. Obviously not Antarctica, but some people really
muddle this up. We have very little documentation of this expedition,
so it won’t take me long to check it out. I’ll have it pulled and try
to review tomorrow. Stay tuned…."
Unfortunately, I got this the next day:
"Darn it, I’m not so amazing after all, it seems. No sign of the
elusive NECCO wafer in the MacMillan Greenland expedition documentation
But – you can believe that I will keep my eyes peeled for any sign of
this and let you know if I ever come across anything to substantiate
this in our collections. Did I mention that the Byrd collection is more
than 500 boxes? That means things aren’t always where you think they
should be and often turn up when looking for something else!!"
When she mentioned the size of the collection, I immediately flashed on Ion the ending of the first Indiana Jones movie. (The Ark storage area, not the face melting.)
I told her this in my reply, and she said:
"So, sometime when you are in Columbus, come by and visit and I’ll
show you our storage facility – which is unbelievably Indiana-Jones
like. You would enjoy it. I might even give you a ride on the
forklift. (yes, we use forklift machines to retrieve materials from our
stacks. I figure if the Archivist gig doesn’t work out, there is
always Home Depot ;-))."
(Sept 2013 update - have not yet taken her up on this.)
I did get a reply from Dr. Kawash"
I'll start with her completing the passages from Untermayer's A Century of Candymaking. She gave the missing parts of the passages, but I am going to stitch them together to make it clearer.
More complete selection from page 31:
“In modern times such hardy explorers as Byrd and MacMillan also
realized the value of candy as a source of quick energy. MacMillan took
Necco wafers to the Arctic, while Byrd brought two and a half tons of
candy to the South Pole, practically a pound a week for each of his men
during their 2 year stay in the Antarctic.”
More complete selection from page 72:
“Necco candies are known far and wide. they went with Bryd to the
South Pole and with MacMillan on his expeditions to Eskimo land. You can
find them at the corner store.”
And her actual reply (note: My mail acted weird - most of this came
through as plaintext, and spaced a bit oddly, I am going to add breaks
for clarity and flow. I added the links to the NYT archives, but they
are behind the paywall.) :
Ah, I see you've caught the bug.
Untermeyer will not help you.
(Here is where she included the completed passages.)
"I have a bit more information on this topic.
From contemporary sources, it is not clear how many Necco wafers were on the ship, if any.
There were definitely not 2 1/2 tons of Necco wafers, in any case.
There was 2 1/2 tons of candy in general, including cough drops and gum, as well as 10,000 candy bars.
Curtiss candy is named, but not NECCO, in the announcement that was in
the trade journal Confectioners Journal, Curtiss presumably supplying
the candy bars (the head of Curtiss, Otto Schnering, was a genius for
Confectioners Journal, 1928 Oct p. 55 “Sugar and Candy in the Antarctic.” (I can't find a link - rob)
The NYT archive seems to be down right now but these articles also mention candy in the expedition: “Byrd Ship Drops Negro Stowaway,” NYT 17 Sept 1928; “Byrd Dogs Seasick Leaving Labrador,” NYT 1 Sept 1928.
Also of interest is Russell Owen, “Chicken and Mince Pie Dinner at Byrd’s Camp Marked Warm Antarctic Christmas Day” NYT 27 Dec 1929 (describes how each man got a one pound box of candy at Christmas, it had been buried under the snow).
Good luck, and if you want to return the favor, when my book comes out
next fall I'd love it if you'd spread the word and maybe drop a line on
And her followup email, when I asked if it was okay to post this, she replied:
"Sure, go ahead. I didn't know about metafilter so that has been a fun discovery.
There are a lot of mythic candy stories that don't hold up to investigation.
I suspect because really it doesn't matter that much. But still there is
something quite thrilling about uncovering the real story.
You might be interested in a couple of entries on my blog under the category "myth busting" on Tootsie Roll, kisses etc.
Also since you're traveling to polar regions you might like a related story about another candy -fuelled expedition "Arctic Gum Drop Fiasco".
CandyProfessor.com is sort of on pause mode while I finish my book, but will be ramping up next year.
My book is about how America came to be a "great candy eating nation" in
the first half of the twentieth century, and why candy today isn't what
it used to be.
With ample candy trivia and history along the way.
Should be out in Fall 2013. I'll post progress on the blog. Thanks so much for your enthusiasm!"
So, the final verdict seems to be:
Byrd certainly brought a LOT of candy (2.5 tons) on his expedition, it was a variety of candy, not simply NECCO wafers.
(If a book that NECCO paid to have written in 1947 doesn't claim the candy was all theirs, I think it is pretty safe to assume that it wasn't.)
So it looks to me as if the Untermayer book is the source of the "fact"
which got smudged a bit as time went on, into 2.5 tons of NECCO wafers.