Have you ever wondered how Life Savers Candy is made? It is actually a fascinating process. Long ago I worked at the Life Savers factory in Port Chester New York. It was an old place even then. It was built just after the 1930 World’s Fair where Life Savers Candy had been a huge hit.
In the center of the factory was a gigantic brass kettle about the size of a homeowner’s garage. The kettle is where Life Savers are cooked. That’s right; cooked. All the ingredients for the candy are put in the kettle and heated and mixed until it is almost at a boil. (You don’t want to burn it.)
Then, when the consistency is just right, whistles blow and lights flash in the plant to warn the workers that the kettle is about to tip. A gigantic crane lifts and tips the kettle and the molten candy pours out onto gigantic steel slides. The molten candy then slowly oozes down to the spinning machines.
The spinning machines take the molten candy and spin it into candy “ropes”. Then comes the part that people find the most strange. Everyone always asks, “How do they punch the holes in Life Savers?” The answer is, “They don’t”.
There is no hole punched in a Life Saver. Instead, the candy rope is wrapped around a steel tube. The rope is then cut and the two ends of the rope are pressed together. Since the candy is still warm, the two ends melt into each other and a Life Saver is born.
All this is done by machine, and is almost too fast for the eye to see. Thousands of Life Savers a minute are being turned from candy rope into little circles with holes in the middle. They come out of the machine still warm. The Life Savers then travel on moving belts all over the factory while they cool off enough to be put into packages.
Like most of the workers, I once and a while took a warm Life Saver off the belt to see what it tastes like. It tastes great!
Now comes the Candy Crush part. The process of manufacturing Life Savers is a race against time. The whole process only works when the candy mix is still warm. From the second the big brass kettle tips the molten candy onto the slide, the candy is cooling off.
The candy mixture keeps cooling and getting harder, until eventually it is so hard the machines can’t work with it any more. At this point the production process stops and “reclaim” begins.
On the metal slides there are now giant chunks of hard candy that cooled before they could be turned into Life Savers. Some are four or five feet long. The workers use special clean tools to pick up and move all these giant pieces of candy into a room with the fancy name of “The Reclaim Room”.
The Reclaim Room is where these big blocks of candy get chopped into smaller pieces. Once the pieces are small enough, they can be added back into the big brass kettle, and re-melted for the next batch.
You probably think that the blocks of candy get chopped up by a specially designed machine – Nope. The scientific method Life Savers used was a guy we used to call Big Al.
Big Al was one of the happiest people I ever met. He loved his job. Every day, his job was to go into the reclaim room with a sledge hammer and smash the big chunks of candy into little bits. His job kept him in fantastic physical shape, and it took out all his aggressions.
Al would walk into the room with his sledge hammer and just go berserk. No one was allowed to be in the Reclaim Room when Al was there. It was just too dangerous. He would charge around the room swinging his sledgehammer, until the candy chunks had been reduced to fine powder.
Outside the Reclaim Room Al was the nicest guy in the World. Whatever anger or disappointment or frustration he had, he worked out by smashing candy with that sledgehammer.
When Al was finished, other workers came to the Reclaim Room and shoveled the candy powder back into the big brass kettle, to be re-melted and start the whole process again.
So that’s how Life Savers are made. At least, that’s how they used to be made. The Port Chester Life Savers plant closed years ago. The operations became too old-fashioned and the manufacturing was moved to a giant automated factory in Puerto Rico.
The red brick Life Savers factory by the Port Chester train station got converted into condominiums. The giant Life Savers signs in front of the factory were donated to the city for a museum. The big brass kettle was sold for scrap metal.
And what happened to the people who worked at the Port Chester Life Savers factory? They went out with a sense of pride. Even after the announcement that the plant would be closed, they continued to work hard and put out a quality product. The production and quality levels in the last month were as high as they had ever been.
On the last day of production, Big Al did something he had never done before. He turned over his sledgehammer and let each worker take a turn in the Reclaim Room smashing up the giant chunks of candy. One by one, workers entered the room, smashed the candy for a while, and came out with a smile.
At the end of the day, the lights were tuned off and one of the last of the old-time candy factories became a part of history. Of course, Life Savers Candy is still around and still tastes great. I heard that the Puerto Rico plant has a special machine that reclaims the candy and a completely revised production process. No big brass kettle, no Big Al with a sledge hammer, no rushing to spin the candy ropes before they can cool.
I am sure the new plant is amazingly efficient. Still, I remember with nostalgic fondness the old Port Chester Life Savers Plant where making the candy was just as much fun as eating it.