Candy: 100 Years of Life Savers

My how time flies, who would have guessed that Life Savers, those ring-shaped mints and fruit-flavored hard candies has reached the ripe old age of 100.  The candy was a ground breaker in its day for many innovations, not least of which is its distinctive packaging, those aluminum foil rolls, which by now we all take for granted, but when they first came out were radically new.

What are they?

Life Savers are those hard candies shaped like their namesake; round with a hole in the middle, that come in a variety of  flavors.  An urban legend persisted that Crane invented the candy to prevent children from choking, as his own child choked on a hard candy.

A Bit of History

In 1912, candy manufacturer Clarence Crane of Garrettsville, Ohio, invented Life Savers as a “summer candy” that could withstand heat better than chocolate.  He did not have the space or the machinery to execute his plan, and first contracted a pill manufacturer to make the shapes.  The first flavor was peppermint, then called “Pep-O-Mint”.  After registering the trademark for the name, Crane sold the rights to the candy to Edward John Noble for $2,900.  Randomly, Clarence is the father of the poet, Hart Crane.

Instead of using cardboard rolls, which were not very successful, Noble created aluminum foil wrappers to keep the mints fresh, offering an innovative solution over the cardboard option.  Tinfoil replaced aluminum foil in 1925, in another bid at product innovation.  This was a manual effort until Edward’s brother, Robert Peckham Nobel, an engineer, developed a manufacturing facilities.  He went on to run the company as its CEO for more than 40 years, selling it in the 1950s.  Edward Noble when founding the Life Savers Candy Company in 1913 made some key marketing moves to expand sales by installing Life Savers displays near cash registers in restaurants and grocery stores, for the price of a nickel. He shrewdly trained the owners of the establishments to always give customers a nickel in their change as doing increased sales of Life Savers.

Since their inception many different flavors of Life Savers have been produced, with the first five-flavor roll appearing in 1935.

Life Savers, long a subsidiary of Kraft Foods, was purchased by the Wrigley Company in 2004 to expand their confectionary line. Since then, flavor options have expanded to include Gummi Savers (known as Life Savers Gummies).  Other flavors and variations include:


  • Pep-O-Mint (1912)
  • Wint-O-Green, Cl-O-ve, Lic-O-Riche, Cinn-O-Mon, Vi-O-let and Choc-O-Late (1919) they remained the standard flavors until the late 1920s.
  • Life Saver Minis (1992)
  • Creme Savers (1996)
  • Life Saver Fusions (2001)
  • Malt-O-Milk (1920) – only lasted a few years
  •  Life Savers “Cough Drop” was introduced with menthol but not successful (1931)

In 1921, the company began to produce solid fruit drops, and by 1925, they had the technology to create a hole in the center of the fruit candies. They were introduced as the “fruit drop with the hole” and came in three flavors: orange, lemon and lime, each packaged in their own separate rolls. Unlike the opaque white mints previously produced by the company, these new candies were crystal-like in appearance, and quickly became popular with the public. The new flavors of anise, butter rum, cola and root beer, were introduced in the clear fruit drop style, but alas they did not prove to be as popular as the original flavors.  The company continued to periodically introduce new flavors with varying degrees of success, for example, a new variety of mint, called Cryst-O-Mint, made in this same crystal-like style was introduced in 1932.

In 1935, the classic “Five-Flavor” rolls were introduced, offering a selection of five different flavors (pineapple, lime, orange, cherry, and lemon) in each roll.[4] This flavor lineup was unchanged for nearly 70 years, until 2003, when three of the flavors were replaced in the United States, making the rolls pineapple, cherry, raspberry, watermelon, and blackberry. However, orange was subsequently reintroduced and blackberry was dropped. The original five-flavor lineup is still sold in Canada. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, four new mint flavors were introduced: Molas-O-Mint, Spear-O-Mint, Choc-O-Mint and Stik-O-Pep.

During WWII, other candy manufacturers donated their sugar rations to keep Life Savers in production so that the little candies could be shared with Armed Forces as a tasty reminder of life at home.

In the Marx Brothers comedy, Horse Feathers (1932) – Life Savers was one of the early product placements in cinema.

In 1981, Nabisco Brands Inc. acquired Life Savers from the E.R. Squibb Corporation, and several of the early mint flavors, including Cl-O-Ve, Vi-O-Let, Lic-O-Rice and Cinn-O-Mon were discontinued due to poor sales. Nabisco introduced a new Cinnamon flavor (“Hot Cin-O-Mon”) as a clear fruit drop type candy, replacing the white mint flavor Cinn-O-Mon which had recently been discontinued. The other original mint flavors have never been revived except by Wrigley. A number of other flavors were also quickly discontinued, after Nabisco took over, in order to make the business more profitable. In 2004, the USA Life Savers business was acquired by Wrigley’s which introduced two new mint flavors (for the first time in over sixty years) in 2006: Orange Mint and Sweet Mint. They also revived some of the early mint flavors (such as Wint-O-Green).

Do do you have a favorite flavor or LifeSaver memory?  For me, it was the LifeSaver books we used to swap at Christmas.




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12 comments for “Candy: 100 Years of Life Savers

  1. July 8, 2012 at 10:42 PM

    Interesting. I’ve never had the opportunaty to taste those candies…



  2. July 9, 2012 at 2:20 AM

    That story about making candy with a hole in it to prevent chocking reminds me of an old story.

    Supposedly, the first toilet seat was invented in 1736 by an Englishman by the name of Albert Crapper. Sales were slow at first until in 1741 he improved on the original design by putting a hole in the middle of the seat.
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  3. JackieC
    July 9, 2012 at 6:03 AM

    I have a very fond memory of Life Savers that still goes on today. I too used to receive a book of Life Savers for Christmas every year. Even when I was a little older I would still receive a book of Life Savers from “Santa”. I love many of the Life Savers flavors, but was never too crazy about the five-flavor fruit drops that were alwaya in the book. One year for Christmas, about 25 years ago I received the traditional book of Life Savers and I just handed it back to my mom still wrapped, knowing exactly what it was and told her to just give it back to me next year to save her time and energy. For about 5 years or so I would find that same box under the tree for me. Then I moved 1000 away. I thought it was the end, but no, now when my parents come to visit that same box of wrapped Lifesavers usually ends up hidden in my house somewhere. Then when my husband and I go visit we return the favor and hide the box somewhere in their house. So I probably have a box of Life Savers from the 75th birthday!!

  4. July 12, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    So sweet…literally lol. Loved it. Went to an old fashioned candy shop today myself and can so relate to this lovely post.
    ruth recently posted..Traditional Luxury Fish Pie

  5. July 14, 2012 at 6:01 PM

    What a sweet and tasty post, Lou Ann. I’ve always wanted to explore the tale of the Life Saver. I must admit, I’m delighted you have enlightened us!

    Thank you so much for sharing…
    Louise recently posted..A Birthday Tribute: Chef Paul Prudhomme

  6. July 16, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    Great post. I love the 1920s ad. Violet sounds like a lovely flavor but I can’t really imagine how violet-ey it could be. Although once very common, it seems violet flavored candy has waned in popularity.

  7. July 16, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    I was always partial to the wild cherry lifesavers. Then again, they reminded me a bit of Luden’s. Apparently, I have an affinity for cherry flavors… Malt-o-Milk lifesavers might actually do well during this malt flavor revolution we are experiencing right now.
    annelies recently posted..Rocky Road Popsicles

  8. July 17, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    What a superb history of an American candy and legend. I do wish that anise flavored lifesavers were still around. I love that flavor. You didn’t mention anything about the… is it wint-O-green? making a spark when you crunch it (with your mouth open to see it) in a dark room. I used to love doing that when I was younger. Sort of like the light of a firefly.

  9. OysterCulture
    July 21, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    Rosa – they’re definitely a part of Americana, and part of my childhood, not sure they’re the best out there, but they certainly bring back good memories

    Jackie – What a great story and like you, not too keen on the 5 flavor pack, my least favorite roll of the bunch. I hope you still get those lifesavers years from now.

    Ruth – thank you and I hope you scored some goodies at the candy store

    5oclock – I love violette sweets so cannot understand their lack of popularity. Several other flavors that have been retired sounded rather tasty too, Oh well, times and tastes have changed. After seeing all the old flavors I could not help but think it would be neat if they did a retro roll out – no pun intended of some of those flavors.

    Louise – Thank you, I confess to not knowing much before doing the research and that was half the fun.

    Annelies – Love the cherry flavor too, and as I recall as a kid half the appeal was how red my tongue got from sucking on them. Yes, I think the malt-o-milk would be very tasty and wish they rereleased some of those retro flavors.

    Stevie – Anise is another yummy sounding flavor, I was disappointed never to have sampled it. I think that one passed me by as a kid, but while researching to the post, that curious phenomeon did come to light. =)

  10. August 1, 2012 at 6:49 PM

    Candy history is so interesting. And yes! The Lifesaver books. I completely forgot about the those. So simple, but so much fun at Christmas!
    Lori recently posted..Honey Peach and Tomato Black Rice Salad Recipe

  11. August 5, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    Malt ‘o’ milk Lifesafers? Oooh, I wish those lasted! Sounds delish.
    Carolyn Jung recently posted..A Visit to Della Fattoria in Petaluma

  12. August 6, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    I LOVE life savers!!! 100 well spent years if you ask me!
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