By Linda Ulrich Journal writer
Most Lincolnites call the building on the Northwest corner of Eighth and P Streets the old Russell Stover candy factory.
But to Tillie Gillen it will always be the Gillen building, used for candy manufacturing for Gillen & Boney and Gillen’s Candies long before Russell Stover came to Lincoln. The building, which is being developed into the Candy Factory, a $2 million retail, commercial and restaurant complex was built around 1915.
Countless candy lovers munched on the Lincoln Bar, Mr. Bigfellow, the Peanut Shortcake and other candy bars made by the Gillen company. Those are the bars Mrs. Gillen’s son Don remembers best because, he says, those were the ones he liked best. “I was a great candy hound, as all kids are,” says Gillen, who is publisher of the York News-Times.
The Gillen company also made boxed chocolates, bulk hard candies and bulked dipped chocolates.
“There was the Lincoln bar, a peanut bar, a marshmallow bar. And oh, there was a malted milk bar that really went over,” Mrs. Gillen recalls.
Her father-in-law, the late Frank E. Gillen, and William Bonay (pronounced Bonnie) began making candy in Lincoln under the name Gillen & Boney in 1895. After Boney died in the World War I flu epidemic, the name was changed to Gillen’s Candies. Mrs. Gillen’s husband, the late Frank R. Gillen, served as vice-president and his father president of the company. “Father Gillen only finished the third grade, but he was the perfect businessman. No one got anything by him.” Mrs. Gillen says.
Mrs. Gillen began working in the factory when she was 15 for $5 a week. “You had to work there a year before you got a raise.”
She continued working there until she was 21 and married. “I married the president’s son, I didn’t fool around.” she said, her eyes twinkling.
Her first job she said, was boxing Cracker Jack. Later she operated the machine that dipped chocolate. “We bought all our chocolate from Hershey’s. We knew them and to this day, the minute I open a box of candy, I can tell if it’s good chocolate,” she says.
In the years she worked at the factory, “I handled an awful lot of candy,” she recalled “It was quite a place.”
But the candy business wasn’t so sweet after world War II started. During the war it cost 5 cents to put the proper number of peanuts in a candy bar that sold for five cents. Mrs. Gillen says, “The war put us out of business. We couldn’t make any money.”
Sugar, chocolate and nuts—three items essential to candymaking—were in short supply in wartime. Mrs. Gillen explained, “Gillen was not a nationwide distributor, so it was difficult for the company to establish quotas to get those items.” In contrast, the Stover company was a national distributor and could get quotas on those items, but did not have enough facilities to use all of their quotas.
As a result, the Gillen company closed in 1943 and the Russell Stover company began leasing the building from Frank R. Gillen and his two brothers. Mrs. Gillen’s husband became a partner in the Stover company and worked for Stover’s until his retirement in 1957. He died in 1971 and the Gillen family sold the building to attorney Richard Richetts in 1973. Stover’s continued to lease the building until 1980, when it closed its Lincoln factory.
With that historical perspective, it is not surprising that Mrs. Gillen has her own opinions about the building.
“People always say the Stover’s building. It is not the Stover’s building. Stover’s never owned the factory. They simply leased the building,”she says firmly.
Similarly, the house on 23rd and A streets is sometimes mistakenly referred to as “the Stover House,” she says. It was Mrs. Gillen says with equal firmness, the Gillen House, the home of her husband’s parents.
The 13th child in her family, Mrs. Gillen says she was “a very fortunate child.” Her mother died when she was 10 and Mrs. Gillen quit school when she was 15 to work at the candy firm.
Despite “a terrible childhood,” she says, “I think I’m better off now.” And, she says, “Nobody could have had a more wonderful life than I. We were married 54 years and nobody had a nicer married life than me. I loved to take care of my house and I loved to cook and take care of my children.”
Mrs. Gillen has another son, Dick Gillen of Lubbock, Texas; a daughter, Dorothy Wright of Lincoln; six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
Frank E. Gillen was born in 1869 at South Bend, Ind. In 1885 he apprenticed to a local candy maker then moved to Omaha in 1859 to work Voegel & Dinng Candy Co. and his son Frank B. Gillen was born.
In 1878 brothers T.E. and A. A. Lasch moved to Lincoln, first working in wholesale groceries, then organizing Lasch Brothers & Co. confectioners.
Their company not only made chocolates, bon bons, creams and caramels, but wholesaled nuts, fruits and cigars from a four-story brick building at 147 S. 10th St.
By 1885 they advertised having 20 employees who turned out two carloads of candy a month, which was then sold throughout Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming and South Dakota.
In 1893 Frank Gillen moved from Omaha to Lincoln and became Lasch’s production foreman.
In 1894 William Boney opened Lincoln Confectionary Co. at 209 N. Eighth St. and the following year joined Gillen to incorporate Gillen & Boney with $25,000 in capital stock.
The new firm acquired a three-story brick building at 117 N. Ninth St. and soon was producing the Lincoln Bar, Mr. Goodfellow, Peanut shortcake and dipped chocolates, all featuring Hershey chocolates.
By 1900, the firm had 25 employees turning out everything from “plain stick candy and common mixtures to the finest products possible to the genius of confectionery making.”
In 1906, in what would today be the northern two-thirds of the Candy Factory Building, on North Eighth Street, became Gillen & Boney’s factory and office.
in 1912, Boney partially retired, and by 1916, with 85 employees, Gillen & Boney was noted as “one of the largest [confectioners] in the West” featuring “Maple Milk and Varietie Caramels” in 40 cent, 75 cent and $1 boxes.
World War I brought sugar rationing and saw Boney succumb to influenza during the epidemic of 1918.
About 1919, Onaua, Iowa, school teacher Christian Nelson chanced to witness a small boy agonize over whether to buy chocolates or ice cream, while having only enough money for one or the other. Nelson wondered why the two treats couldn’t be combined. In 1921, he teamed up with Russell Stover to create a waxy chocolate that would adhere to ice cream as a hard shell and the I-Scream-Bar was born.
In 1922, the bar was renamed the Eskimo Pie and joined Mrs. Stover’s Bungalow Candies, which were sold from the Stover’s home at 960 Detroit St. in Denver. In 1934, a stick was added to make it easier to “handle.”
World War II brought sugar rationing anew, as well as distribution and marketing problems to all the nation’s candy makers.One insider said that with all candy’s ingredients in short supply it literally cost more to produce some products than their retail price before the war.In order to obtain allocations and spread distribution nationally, Russell Stover purchased Gillen & Boney as well as several other smaller confectioners.
In 1943, the Eighth Street building was leased to Russell Stover and Frank B. Gillen became a vice president of the expanding company.In 1947, the now famous Pecan-Delight was introduced and in 1954, the corporate offices were moved to Lincoln. As the firm grew, the H.O. Lau building was purchased and other buildings in the wholesale district were leased.
In 1954, as production was modernized, Russell Stover was producing more than 250,000 pounds of candy a week and by the end of the decade had, with more than 1,000 employees, become Lincoln’s second largest employer and the city’s largest food producer.
Although still growing and expanding Lincoln operations in the 1970’s, Russell Stover moved all offices and production to Kansas City in 1980.
That left the entire district in an emptying mode but allowed the spectacular rebirth of the Haymarket as a shopping, dining and entertainment center that is still growing and improving today.
As late as the 1950’s rumor had it that one of the old Gillen & Boney recipes lived on in the Pecan praline Bar available only at the Karmel Korn Shop at 122 N. 14th St., but no one seems to really know.
Do you remember?