Like the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge and my cat, the Butterfinger bar has mysterious origins. One thing I do know is that the origins again link back to Chicago. I’m not seeking out Chicago-based candy for these histories, guys, my city is just that awesome. Some sources claims is was invented by Drew Seibold of Florence, Wisconsin, while others say it was Otto Schnering, owner of the Curtiss Candy Company of Chicago, Illinois, in 1926. Some sources say the bar was marketed as early at 1923, other sources as late as 1928.
Drew Seibold seems to lead to a big hole in the internet, but Schnering was easier to track down as he owned a fairly large candy company. Otto Schnering was born around 1892 in Chicago. He spent his summers on his father’s farm near Detroit and had designs on following in his footsteps. After graduation from the University of Chicago, that crazy kid wanted to get married, so he got a respectable job in a bank. In 1916, a then 24 year old Schnering started a candy business with the help of four friends. He gave the business his mother’s maiden name, Curtiss. Butterfinger became one of their most popular products along with the Kandy Kake… I mean, Baby Ruth (perhaps I also need to look into the inventor of this one because this Schnering character seems to love stealing other people’s thunder and product credit).
I wasn’t able to rustle up what they called the Butterfinger prior to 1928 (again, mystery!), but that year the company held a public contest encouraging the public to write in with suggestions. The name is a slang term to describe an athlete who can’t hold onto the ball. As an early publicity stunt and marketing ploy, the company dropped Butterfinger and Baby Ruth candy bars from airplanes in cities across the United States to help increase its popularity. This sounds horrifying and dangerous. I hope the planes were low-flying because I can’t imagine the havoc a high-velocity Butterfinger storm could wreak on city streets.
The Curtiss Candy Company was owned by Standard Brands Inc. which merged with Nabisco in 1981 to become Nabisco Brands, Inc. For a little more intrigue, when Nabisco gained control of the Curtiss Candy Company, the recipes for the Baby Ruth and Butterfinger vanished. Similar recipes were quickly developed by the snack wizards at Nabisco and the public may or may not have ever noticed. In 1990, Nestlé bought Baby Ruth and Butterfinger from RJR Nabisco.
Between 1990 and 2001 Bart Simpson and other characters from The Simpsons appeared in more than 150 advertisements for the product. Slogans such as “Nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger!”, “Bite my Butterfinger!”, and “Nothin’ like a Butterfinger!” ruled the airwaves of my younger years. In 2002, The Simpsons bit the hand that had formerly fed them in episode 277 (season 13) called “Sweets and Sour Marge”, which included a scene involving Butterfinger bars being unable to be burned. Around the time the episode was written, the series contract with Butterfinger was terminated, so it was open season for mockery. Chief Wiggum lamented, “Butterfingers. Even fire doesn’t want them.”
On April 1, 2008, Nestlé launched a new marketing campaign claiming to have changed the name of the candy bar to “The Finger”, citing consumer research that indicated that the original brand was “clumsy” and “awkward”, complete with a website promoting the change and featuring a video press release. Upon completion of the April Fool’s Day “joke”, the entire website changed into a flash animation redirecting to the Butterfinger Comedy Network, which still has a home on Yahoo! video.
Butterfinger was withdrawn from the German market due to consumer rejection when it was one of the first products to be labeled as containing genetically modified ingredients from corn.
Butterfinger currently comes in several varieties, including Snackerz and Butterfinger Crisp. Previous incarnations include BB’s and the Butterfinger Buzz (oh good, more caffeinated candy… sorry I missed that one).
As a kid, I never really “got” the appeal of the Butterfinger, although I loved the Simpsons and wanted to do right by them. I ate Butterfinger bars when I received them in Halloween candy haul, but they were always on the chocolate B-list. Something about the texture has never been right for me. I like the flavor but I don’t like the way it sticks in my teeth for hours. I like the chocolate coating but I don’t like how quickly it melts. I also find that the name makes me vaguely uncomfortable, although that may be a personal problem. Upon reading that it was rejected from the German market, I was all like “right on!” until I saw that it was because of GMO hoopla. That’s a perfectly good reason, too, but not one that validated my emotions. If Germany can’t validate my emotions, I’m not sure who can.
The “original” size Butterfinger bar has 270 calories, 11g of fat, 6g of saturated fat, 135mg of sodium, 43g of carbohydrates, 1g of fiber, and 4g of protein.