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Swampscott's Sweet Past

Egg Rock drops in on a piece of Swampscott's past this week as Amy Lockerbie Smith does a historical spread on Marshmallow Fluff.

 

Among the collection of old pictures in Swampscott Town Hall, there is one showing the flooded street under the railroad bridge on Burrill Street. 

Looking at the building on the right, just before passing under the railroad bridge and facing the Swampscott Depot, the sign at the top of this building reads; Durkee – Mower & Co.  Under that it clearly reads, Marshmallow Fluff.  Imagine this world famous company started out in our little town of Swampscott, Massachusetts.  Estimates suggest the picture was taken about 1924.

When I saw the picture of the Marshmallow Fluff factory in Swampscott Town Hall, the memory of a long forgotten poem I had written for my children came back to me.  It seems to fit into this story quite well.

It’s a sticky situation . . .

Gooey globs . . .

Splattered here.  Splattered there.

Splattered, splattered everywhere.

On the ceiling . . . on the floor . . .

On your head and on the door.

 . . . And oh the air, so very sweet.

Would you believe it’s something to eat!

 . . . and then when all is tucked away . . .

Clean it, clean it . . . cleans it all!

Wipe it off . . . scrape it off . . .

Off the lamps . . .off the wall . . .

Clean it, clean it, clean it all!

Rub the goo . . . away I say . . . come again another day.

 

A tip of the hat to Dr. Seuss.

 

Interestingly enough, a gentleman named Archibald Query had been making fluff in his kitchen since 1917 and selling it door to door.  The war caused shortages of sugar and forced him to stop his enterprise.  After the war, he was willing to sell the formula, so Durkee and Mower pooled their money and came up with the necessary $500 to buy his recipe. Their only other asset was a second hand Ford. 

Allen Durkee and Fred Mower, two young men who graduated from Swampscott High School and served in World War 1, began manufacturing this sweet confection in 1920.  

When they began the operation, one barrel of sugar was 28 cents a pound and the days of making Fluff in the kitchen were over.  It all started in the basement where corn syrup and sugar were cooked together in steam kettles.  Twelve massive mixing bowls lined the factory room like two rows of giant soldiers.  Mighty paddles spun in a frenzy of motion . . . splashing sticky stuff everywhere.  Continuous noise of clattering metal pierced the air.  Stifling heat filled the room.  The sweet essence was pumped upstairs where enormous beaters took over, to riotously whip the concoction for fifteen minutes removing water, yielding a smooth, creamy-white Marshmallow Fluff.

Not long after the soldiers of World War 1 came marching home, jars of Marshmallow Fluff were marching off the assembly line.  The product and process remains the same today as it was those many years ago.  Very simple: corn syrup, sugar, egg whites, and vanilla flavoring.  This was the old fashioned way, in batches, pure and sweet. 

It took a strong arm to maneuver the awkward confection out of the kettles into a chute.  Gravity then took the fluff to the packing machine where the familiar jar was filled, sealed, dated and on its merry way to sweeten a cup of cocoa . . . and lest we forget . . . the most famous sandwich of all, childhood’s classic cuisine . . . the Fluffernutter.

10 years later Marshmallow Fluff was the largest distributor in New England.  In 1927 the operation had grown to such an extent, they began advertising in the Boston newspapers.  In 1929 they moved the factory to East Lynn, which tripled the floor space to 10,000 square feet.  Sometime later they also merged with Cream of Chocolate Company and produced a product in 1937 named Sweeco, which they continued to make until 1962.

The Flufferettes became Durkee-Mower’s unique method of radio advertising.  In 1930 they began sponsoring weekly fifteen minute shows on the Yankee radio network.  Twenty-one stations broadcast the Flufferettes all over New England including Sunday evening just before Jack Benny’s comedy show.  These were live musical and comedy skits and often propelled talented newcomers into their careers.  These shows continued into the late 1940’s.

In 1950 a new factory containing machinery, much of it designed specifically for Durkee-Mower, opened to accommodate new filling and capping machines with increased speed of 125 jars per minute as opposed to 80. This increased production without having to lay off personnel.  Speed and efficiency was second to cleanliness and purity.  Walls and floor are covered with tile for ease in cleaning, which takes the crew 1& 1 ½ hours to complete.  No more 100 bag of granulated sugar; liquid sugar is stored in 5500 gallon stainless steel tanks.  There are no preservatives in Fluff and no refrigeration necessary.

Marshmallow Fluff is available in many countries throughout the world including Canada, UK, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, South Africa, Belgium, and UAE.  If by chance it is unavailable where you live, it can be ordered with an on-line order form.

http://www.marshmallowfluff.com/pages/history1.html

Jason May 03, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Very cool story! I grew up a long way from Massachusetts. It was a Saturday tradition in the winter to have a cup of hot chocolate on my grandmother's farm, to which she would always add a 'plop' of the white gooey marshmallow fluff. Who knew that life would someday lead me to settle in the town that that wonderful stuff was founded in? I'm glad it did.

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