September 13, 2006 by

Dorothy Harmsen


Categories: Business

Dorothy Harmsen, a Colorado farmer and candy maker who helped launch a confection empire, died on Aug. 29 from a heart attack. She was 91.
The Minnesota native was in her mid-20s when she met Continental Airlines pilot William D. Harmsen Sr. on a blind date. The couple wed, moved to a 10-acre ranch outside of Denver and tried to farm the land. When their fruit and produce crops failed to turn enough profit, the Harmsens opened a soft-service ice cream shop in Golden, Colo., called The Jolly Rancher.
The store did well during the summer months, but ice cream sales dropped in the winter. To supplement their income, Dorothy began making chocolates and hard candies inside the family barn and selling them at the store. Candy profits soon became the lifeblood of the business, allowing her to become a stay-at-home mom and full-time candy maker. Over the next 50 years, Dorothy and Bill would expand their candy product line and work force, and become a major competitor in the confections market.
Although Dorothy created scores of original candies, the Jolly Rancher Candy Co. hit its stride in 1950 with the release of the Fire Stix. The translucent, cinnamon-flavored taffy, made with Colorado beet sugar, released an intense flavor that appealed to children and adults alike. However, the company’s trademark product was the Jolly Rancher, a hard candy produced in 24 tart and tangy fruit flavors. The bold flavors used in these rectangular jewels were later imbued in fruit chews, gummies, jelly beans, lollipops and sours.
The Jolly Rancher Candy Co. was always a family affair, one that produced 1 million pounds of candy each week. Dorothy managed the company’s finances, Bill marketed the products and their three children worked in packaging and taste testing. The family also gave away free candies on Halloween, an event which caused traffic jams to form on nearby Interstate 70. The company is currently owned by the Hershey Chocolate & Confectionery Corporation.
In addition to being candy makers, Dorothy and Bill were avid art collectors and the owners of one of the nation’s largest private collections of American Western art. They acquired paintings by George Catlin, Robert Henri, Victor Higgins, Georgia O

5 Responses to Dorothy Harmsen

  1. Frank London

    My Mother worked for Bill & Dottie for two years, from 1951 to 1953. Then moved to Oregon and had me. My mother is 86 years young, and all ways had good story’s to tell about Bill & Dorothy.
    Frank London

  2. Victoria

    Thanks so much for the info. This is going to get me some good grades. I am doing a presentation on the Jolly Rancher. And Bill and Dorothy are going to be in it! Thanks again! Victoria

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