Ira ‘Bob’ Born, a candy company executive known as the ‘Father of Peeps’ for mechanizing the process to make marshmallow chicks, has died at 98.
Just Born Quality Confections, the 100-year-old family-owned company Born led for much of his life, said on Monday that he had died peacefully at home in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, January 29.
‘Bob will be remembered as a tireless and passionate advocate for the candy industry and a wonderful supporter of our community,’ David Shaffer, Board Chair and Co-CEO of Just Born said in a statement. ‘Bob was our second-generation family member whose dedication was instrumental in Just Born reaching our 100-year milestone. We extend our deepest sympathy to his son, Ross, and the entire family.’
Born began his life in New York City on September 29, 1924. His father, Sam Born, was a Russian immigrant who had trained as a confectioner in France and started Just Born shortly before his son’s birth. His father developed a process for connecting lollipop sticks to the candy and even developed a chocolate that hardened quickly around ice cream.
During the Great Depression, the business was prosperous, and the family later moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where Just Born is still based, in 1932.
Ira ‘Bob’ Born died in his home in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, on Sunday
He was known as the ‘Father of Peeps’ for creating the machinery to automate the marshmallow process
Bob Born graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in engineering physics. He enlisted in the US Navy and served as a radar specialist and a lieutenant on a destroyer in the Pacific. Later, the Navy sent him to the University of Arizona and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for graduate work in math and physics.
Born applied to medical school and was accepted, but while he was waiting for his classes to begin, he went to work at Just Born. He fell in love with the candy business and decided to stay.
‘The candy business was kind of catchy … it was interesting to him,’ Ross Born, Bob Born’s son, told the Lehigh Valley News. ‘He enjoyed the science, the technology, the processing. He was very much into the equipment.’
In 1953, Just Born acquired Rodda Candy Co., a jellybean maker that had a side business producing shaped marshmallow candies by hand. At the time, it took about 27 hours to make the marshmallows.
When asked why he thought to automate the process when the original company hadn’t for 50 years, he simply told the Allentown Morning Call that he ‘didn’t know’ why, but ‘we’re going to do it.’
Born began his life in New York City on September 29, 1924. His father, Sam Born, was a Russian immigrant who had trained as confectioner in France and started Just Born shortly before his son’s birth
Born graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in engineering physics. He enlisted in the US Navy and served as a radar specialist and a lieutenant on a destroyer in the Pacific. He later applied to medical school and was accepted, but while he was waiting for his classes to begin, he went to work at Just Born. He fell in love with the candy business and decided to stay
A salesperson told him: ‘All you young guys think you’re Edison.’
Bob Born saw the candy’s potential, so he and an engineer at the company took nine months to design and build a machine to make them in less than six minutes.
‘There was a lot of trial and error,’ Bob told the Associated Press in 2003. ‘We made so many samples, at first some of them coming down the line looked like seals. So we had to try again.’
After automating the system, Peeps began flying off the shelf. By the 1980s, they became a mainstay in Easter baskets.
The company’s current machines, which are still based on Bob Born’s design, now pump out 5.5million Peeps per day.
Seventy years later, Peeps remain Just Born’s most recognizable candy brand, the company says. Just Born makes around 2billion Peeps each year, or enough to circle the globe two-and-a-half times. It sells the most at Easter, but also has versions sold for Halloween, Valentine’s Day and other holidays.
After automating the process, the company now produces 5.5million Peeps a day
Bob Born also came up with the recipe for another popular Just Born candy, Hot Tamales. Just Born also makes Mike and Ike fruit chews – which is where the Hot Tamales came from – and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews.
Bob Born became Just Born’s president in 1959 and held the role for more than 30 years. He last visited the Just Born factory on February 15, 2019, when the city of Bethlehem proclaimed the first day of the Easter season as ‘Bob Born Day.’
He spent most of his retirement in Florida, where he led a literacy program and enjoyed hobbies including photography. He was active until a few months before he died, when he had a difficult recovery after a hard fall.
‘Bob will be remembered as a tireless and passionate advocate for the candy industry and a wonderful supporter of our community,’ said David Shaffer, co-CEO and chairman of Just Born, in a statement released by the company.
He is survived by his widow, Patricia; children Sara and Ross; five grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. His funeral will be private.
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