NECCO Wafers at the South Pole?
August 23, 2012 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Admiral Byrd took 2 1/2 tons of NECCO Wafers to Antarctica? Citation needed. Can you help?

A friend of mine forwarded me a list of odd trivia he found on the web.

Note - it's NOT the typical duck's quack not echoing garbage I can easily debunk on Snopes - he knows I spend way too much time figuring out ways to tell him exactly why he is wrong, so most of this confirms with a quick search. . .

One of the bits however was this nugget:
"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 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 itself.

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 bring a bunch of Inuit kids thousands of miles south? Was he using them instead of sled dogs?

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. Antartica 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 books.

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?

Any help is greatly appreciated.
posted by RevRob330 to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And I just found a possible NECCO source for why the author of the candy book I mentioned may have written the Eskimo passage. On the NECCO history page I cited before, right before the line about Byrd I found:
"Necco Wafers are famous for having traveled around the world with the people who love them. In 1913, explorer Donald B. Macmillan brought Necco Wafers along on his Arctic expeditions. He used them not only as treats for himself, but also as rewards for the local native children. "

Implying there are Eskimos native to Antarctica is still wrong, but it looks more like a mix-up of two separate NECCO/Explorer of Frozen Area incidents rather than a simple geography and human population distribution fail.
posted by RevRob330 at 10:23 AM on August 23, 2012

Best answer: The definitive answer would probably be found in the Byrd Polar Research Center Archives.

Googling necco returns no results.
posted by zamboni at 10:28 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The finding aid for Byrd Antarctic Expedition I, 1928-30 lists some documents of interest, including

054-722.19-4 123 4591 Equipment and supplies, candy, popcorn, gum: 1928
posted by zamboni at 10:34 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

They should have a PR person that might be able to provide an answer.

BTW, nice to know somebody else likes NECCO Wafers!
posted by COD at 10:36 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hold on, if it was on a 1930s expedition, it would be Byrd Antarctic Expedition II, 1933-35, or the US Antarctic Service Expedition, both of which OSU has less records for.
posted by zamboni at 10:41 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used the contact form here to ask the company. Maybe they have an old receipt.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:57 AM on August 23, 2012

Response by poster: Zamboni,

WOW! I had no idea about the Byrd archives as OSU.

Thanks for the information. I clicked around, and couldn't find anything quickly, but I did send an email to the Polar Curator (this has got to be one of the Top 10 job titles) laying out the issue, and referencing this thread.

If she replies (and gives me permission to), I'll post anything I find out here.
posted by RevRob330 at 10:59 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wretch729 (and COD),

Thanks! I'm trying to see if I can find a non-NECCO source, but PLEASE let me know if you get any reply from them on this!
posted by RevRob330 at 11:01 AM on August 23, 2012

I have heard this factoid repeated by guides from the Cambridge Historical Society; perhaps they know sources?
posted by nonane at 11:09 AM on August 23, 2012

I just found out NECCO switched back to the original formula! Back in a jiff.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:49 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OKAY:
Here is the letter (abridged) that I sent to Laura Kissel, the Polar Curator 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 (stiched 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."

So since she is helping me out with this oddball quest, I went and liked the OSU Byrd Polar Archives page on Facebook. You should too!

I'll post when I have more information.
posted by RevRob330 at 11:54 AM on August 23, 2012 [20 favorites]

Fantastic! I look forward to the findings of this important research project.
posted by zamboni at 12:12 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

My best friend's wife's (still living) grandfather apparently went on one of Byrd's expeditions to the South Pole; the question is being asked. The grapevine of personal anecdote may have some good insight!
posted by eyesontheroad at 12:29 PM on August 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

When singer Neko Case (New Pornographers and solo work) was on the NPR news-quiz show "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me!" segment "Not My Job!" (in which celebs are questioned about something they ought to know nothing about), she was questioned about Necco Wafers. (This is, IMO, one of the funniest episodes of "Not My Job" in at least that year, as both the guest and panel get carried away, riffing on the first question.)

The source of the material was from a book called "Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America," by Steve Almond.

They do not mention that particular expedition, but the book may be a source worth checking.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:47 PM on August 23, 2012

I am one of the only people under 60 that I know who actually love and enjoy NECCO Wafers - even the mysterious purple wafer.

You monster. The purple wafers are just horrible. The white (cinnamon) ones, however, were perfect for pretending to take communion. Ah, Catholic kids.

The source of the material was from a book called "Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America," by Steve Almond.

They do not mention that particular expedition, but the book may be a source worth checking.

Sunburnt, I'm pretty sure that Candyfreak does not mention Byrd's expedition. I can't seem to find my copy, but I've read it a couple of times, and I have no recollection of that.
posted by waldo at 12:11 PM on August 25, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, I got an update from Laura at the Ohio Sate Polar Archives.
Here's her email:
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 years!

Still hunting,

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:

page 11
100 Cases Soda Crackers - 50 lbs. to case
handwritten next to this is "nice to have but don't purchase"

page 13
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 MeFi wants to save that for the HTML tags
More info as I get it!
posted by RevRob330 at 9:25 AM on August 29, 2012

Response by poster: Laura gave the okay to post the list.
I posted it to Scribd.

Feel free to download and read it, but don't turn it into a t-shirt design unless you consult with the Polar Archives on royalties. (Use the Polar Archives only for good! And follow Wheaton's Law.)

Here is her longer reply:

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 list!!!

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….

Librarians are awesome!

(Or, more properly, archivists are awesome!
posted by RevRob330 at 10:52 AM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Not throwing in the towel. . .

Hi all, I just got this email back from Laura at the Polar Archives:

Hi Rob,

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 evidence?

Sorry :) . It’s more fun when I can actually find the documentation.


Looks as if the polar angle has turned out to be. . .

(adjusts shades)

. . . 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:

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” (preview cuts off)

Page 72
“. . . 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.

Does any one have a copy closer to them?

The book does not seem to be in print, and is (only!) 50 bucks on Amazon.

More info as I find it.
posted by RevRob330 at 9:15 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sunburnt, I'm pretty sure that Candyfreak does not mention Byrd's expedition. I can't seem to find my copy, but I've read it a couple of times, and I have no recollection of that.

I checked a copy of Candyfreak, and there's nothing useful in the NECCO chapter.
posted by zamboni at 10:10 AM on September 4, 2012

Response by poster: And our Polar Curator sent me an email to add:

"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…."

So our takeaway for the day is:

Laura is amazing.


(Have you liked the OSU Byrd Polar Archives page on Facebook yet? Why not?)
posted by RevRob330 at 10:47 AM on September 4, 2012

Response by poster: Another update from Polar Curator, Laura:
"Darn it, I’m not so amazing after all, it seems. No sign of the elusive NECCO wafer in the MacMillan Greenland expedition documentation either.

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 ;-))."

So even though I am not much closer to finding the truth about Secret NECCO polar history, I can safely say that this has exceeded my wildest expectations! If/when I do take her up on this, I'll start a thread here.

I have not reached out to the Candy Professor yet, but I hope to in the next few days.

More updates as events warrant.
posted by RevRob330 at 12:58 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: It's been chaotic at work, and in life.

I finally got an email out to Dr. Kawash this afternoon.

It is a (slightly) shorted recap of what's above, and a plea for Rutgers unity.

(She is a Professor Emerita and I graduated in the 90s.)

Keep your fingers crossed, and send offerings to the FSM!
posted by RevRob330 at 2:39 PM on September 13, 2012

Response by poster: SCORE!

I got a great reply from Dr. Kawash last night.

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 marketing)
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 Amazon!

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". 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.

I don't want to mark this as answered for a few days, in case anyone can find a link to the Confectioners Journal from October 1928. Google Books has none after 1928.

(Also - it seems like bad form for the question asker to mark their own response as the best answer. If I do mark it, I'll probably mark zamboni's original response - it gave me the push to did much deeper into this.

Thanks all!

posted by RevRob330 at 10:56 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Thanks for your persistence Rob! Little things like this are fun! I just wanted to chime in and say that NECCO never responded to my inquiry except for their automated "We have recieved your request and will send a response within 1 - 2 business days." e-mail. Oh well. I will have to content myself with my own highly plausible theory that their mispelling of received is the only way an oppressed NECCO employee can signal that something is deeply wrong within the company, that the polar expedition DID have NECCO wafers, and that the real secrets of the candy are bound up in a massive conspiracy that cannot be let known, lest dark forces consume us all!
posted by Wretch729 at 9:29 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Good work, Rob! Make sure you keep the Polar Archives folks updated on recent developments.
posted by zamboni at 11:48 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are apparently copies of the Confectioners' Journal around the place, but not all collections go back to 1928. Both the New York Public Library and The Smithsonian Institute allegedly have the goods in off-site storage, though - anyone want to request a copy and have a look?
posted by zamboni at 12:05 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wretch,

Thanks for the followup with NECCO. I am sure their misspelling is a signal of the coming of the end times. Is NECCO controlled by Ickeian Reptilians? Only time and vigilance will tell!
(Although it would explain their foray into "natural ingredients" and the utter abomination that was Twilight NECCO Hearts.


Thanks! I have been letting Laura know about this every step of the way. Her response to Dr. Kawash's information, and my speculation was:
" I think that makes way more sense – 2.5 tons total candy, that is. When I was hunting for you, I noticed lots of documents about chocolate. And, the cough drops too – Luden’s! ( I used to love those as a kid – we ate them just like they were candy.)"

As far as the Confectioner's Journal, the Cleveland Public Library is the closest to me that has copies, but their online catalog states that their collection runs from 1917 - 1956 and that it is an "Incomplete set."

I'll have to see if I can get up there one of these days.


How long does a question stay open (or commentable?)
posted by RevRob330 at 7:49 AM on September 19, 2012

For AskMe, one year.
posted by zamboni at 11:51 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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