The Palmer Candy name has been well known in Sioux City for over one hundred years. From a relatively small beginning in wholesale groceries, the company became the largest confectioner in Sioux City and one of the largest in Iowa. The company’s name is now recognized across the United States. Just as important, however, have been the actions of five generations of the Palmer family since their arrival in Sioux City in the late nineteenth century.
Though Edward Cook Palmer remained an important businessman in Sioux City, his efforts in civic boosterism made him one of the most important figures in the city. He was the builder and chief owner of the Sioux City and Nebraska Pontoon Bridge, on the board of several banks, and helped form many real estate developments across Sioux City. In 1890 his success as a promoter won him Sioux City’s mayoral election.
This eldest Palmer helped grow the recognition of his family’s name. By 1892, however, his sons William B. Palmer and Charles E. Palmer had made names of their own when the formed the Palmer Company. At first the Palmer Company concentrated its efforts on wholesale fruit, but by 1898 candy making began to turn the business in a new direction.
Business was booming for the Palmer Company. The company’s fruit business was selling products to retailers throughout Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. The candy business was also very prosperous, with products selling well throughout Sioux City’s trade territory. By the late 1890s it was clear to the Palmer Company that more space was needed to keep up with demand and a new four-story facility was built at 209 Douglas Street in 1900.The building was a modern and efficient facility in 1900, but by 1908 even more space was needed to keep up with the thriving business. A fifth floor was added.
Again, by 1914, business at the Palmer facility had grown. William and Charles decided it was time to split the company into separate businesses. William and his son Edward Charles Palmer Sr. took control of the candy business, which used all five floors and the basement of the factory. Charles Edward Palmer operated the fruit house in a newly constructed building directly behind the larger candy factory.
In 1923 the Sioux City Spirit of Progress, a bi-weekly publication of the Chamber of Commerce, reported on the candy company. In this report the building, equipment, and employees were described. At the time over 100 workers and salesmen were employed. The building housed hard candy and chocolate manufacturing, warehousing, shipping, and offices The company used an amazing 750 tons of sugar and 250 tons of different nuts. Palmer Candy shipped in raw products from across the world. Sugar came from Southern plantations and Cuba; nuts came from Texas, California, and South America, chocolate from many tropical regions, corn syrup from Iowa, and raisins from California.
During the prosperous decade of the 1920s, the Palmer Candy Company had ever-increasing sales. Also during the 1920s, candy sales in the United States were beginning to change. Candy bars sold in grocery stores became the most popular form of chocolate sales. Before this time chocolate candies had largely been sold from candy counters or in drug stores. In the early 1920s nearly 40,000 new candy bars had been invented and Palmer did not want to be excluded. In 1923 the company began producing and selling the Bing candy bar. They are still made by the company today.
The candy business kept growing for the rest of the twentieth century. Palmer needed to expand its production. They purchased the Soo Candy Company and its peanut-roasting department in 1940. In 1956 Palmer Candy Company purchased the candy division of Johnson Biscuit and rights to the popular LaFama brand of candies. During the middle of the twentieth century, these new divisions meant new products and services. Palmer’s started selling peanuts and nutmeat, which is remains part of their business today. Also, the company began purchasing candy from other businesses and repackaging them.
In 1969 Palmer’s wholesale fruit business closed after 77 years of operation. Though it was a sad time for old business, the huge business created by the operation of the candy division overshadowed the loss. The first big event after the closing was the invention of the Twin Bing, with two bumps instead of just one. The candy business was expanded further until in 1979, the once modern factory no longer met the business’s needs. That year the Palmer Candy Company moved to a larger facility at 311 Bluff St. This new facility spread over four floors and housed candy manufacturing, peanut roasting, candy rebagging, warehousing, shipping, and offices.
In the more recent past, the Palmer Candy Company introduced the King Bing in 1986 and acquired a new distribution center in 2003. To top off the year of 2003, Palmer’s celebrated their 125th anniversary. In 2006, Palmer’s business focused on production of bulk candy for grocery and specialty stores, contract manufacturing, rebagging and the Bing line of bars.
From a small beginning as a wholesale grocer much has changed in the Palmer Candy Company since 1878. From wholesale groceries and fruit to an experimental dive into the world of candy and chocolate, the five-generation-owned business has been a significant part of Sioux City’s history. With the introduction of the Bing line of bars the Palmer Candy Company became well known in the Midwest and across much of the nation.
Palmer Candy Company, Sioux City Public Museum, SC54
Palmer Candy Company, Sioux City Public Museum, SC55
Palmer Family Biography File, Sioux City Public Museum, SC56
Palmer Fruit Company, Sioux City Public Museum, SC55