In the decades between 1920 and 1930, the population of the Lower Rio Grande Valley more than doubled. It was a period of growth imagined only by our founding fathers and it was coming into reality. The 1930 census gave the Valley a population of 176,074—more than twice the total of 85,861 in 1920.
Cameron County showed a tremendous leap from 36,662 to 77,486, while Hidalgo County grew from 38,110 to 76,680. By 1930, Brownsville had a population of 22,050—double what it had in 1920.
With many new people coming to the Valley, there was also a large increase in the number of farms, in contrast with many parts of the country where a marked decrease was noted.
Obviously, there was a movement of people, progress, and stability in this region never seen before and the country took notice—especially one of the most successful candy manufacturing companies of the time.
Many stood to gain from the population growth—as did the Herald, in large part because the majority of the newcomers were English readers, thus expanding their readership and consequently their sales.
A Christmas treat…
In December of 1928, the Brownsville Herald decided, with Otto Y. Schering, president of Curtiss Candy and Gum Companies of Chicago, to bring their “Baby Ruth” plane to the Valley.
It was on a Monday that the skies of Brownsville and the Valley were literally covered with chocolate. The Brownsville Herald was treating the kids of the Valley with one of the most delicious candy bars of the era, the Baby Ruth. Almost every city got their share of full-size bars and packages of Peppermint Gum— attached to miniature parachutes.
As the arrival of the plane grew closer, kids were seen gathering in their own neighborhoods— as the flying Santa Claus visited every section of this city and Valley cities from Brownsville to Mission on the main highway.
The plane took to the skies at 10:30 from the Brownsville Municipal Airport to deliver the Brownsville Herald New Year’s treat to Valley children. A Herald reporter wrote, “The sky was soon filled with the rice paper parachutes and children were gathered in clumps, frantically chasing the ‘chutes as they swung along the breeze.”
And that’s not all—if perhaps some missed out on securing a candy from the sky—every child who brought a parachute into the Herald office were given a package of gum.
To the kids of today, a package of gum might not seem like much, but during this era, having one piece of gum was “priceless”. After chewing the gum for a while— it was common to save it in the refrigerator for the day.
After flying the skies of Brownsville, the plane returned to the airport to reload with goodies for the upper-Valley flight.
As the plane left Brownsville, children in the visiting cities of San Benito, Harlingen, La Feria, Weslaco, Donna, Alamo, San Juan, Pharr, McAllen and Mission were anxiously waiting for their chance to chase the allusive parachute.
The pilot called it a successful mission upon his return to Brownsville, reporting no major incidents—although, there were some cases of tummy aches from overindulgence.
The Baby Ruth plane was piloted by Capt. Dallas M. Speer, who was a former air instructor during WWI and at the time, one of the best aviators in the United States. By the time he came to Brownsville he had covered 24 states and completed the rest before returning to his home port.
What is in a name…?
Over the years and even today, people still believe the candy bar was named after the hero of the homerun, Babe Ruth—but not so. According to the Curtiss Candy Co., the bar was not named after the famed ball player, but instead after Grover Cleveland’s daughter, Ruth.
It is written that, “Many saw the company’s story about the origin of the name to be a devious way to avoid having to pay the baseball player any royalties,” and thus taking advantage of the Bambino’s rise to fame in 1921—the same year the candy was named.
A rival company who did name a bar after the “Babe” was shut down by the Curtiss group, on the basis that the names were too similar.
When was the last time you munched on a Baby Ruth?