On this Memorial Day, as it has done on all Memorial Days past, America will take time out to honor its brave men and woman who, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it, “gave the last full measure of devotion” in times of war.

As we reflect on the fallen, however, we are often also reminded of those that remained behind on the home front – the civilians who served their country by contributing to the war effort which helped lead the nation to victory.  

W.S. Stuckey was, indeed, one of those civilians and this is his story – an account of how one man used the lessons learned through his struggles during the Great Depression to keep his business going so he could supply American troops with the morale boosting treats that helped them win the war.

The Government Cuts Down on Sweets

In May of 1942, the American way of life lost some its sweetness. Just six months before, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, dragging America into the Second World War. Before the smoke of the surprise attack even cleared, however, the Japanese would begin their invasion of the Philippines just ten hours later on December 8. By April 1942, the Philippines surrendered to Japan, leaving the United States not only without a close ally, but also without a major sugar importer. 

Shortly after both of these events, the amount of cargo ships in the Pacific carrying sugar from Hawaii and South America were cut by half to make way for military vessels. Meanwhile, German U-boats in the Atlantic were causing heavy losses to cargo ships in the Atlantic. As a result, the supply of sugar coming into America fell by a third.

World War II poster reminding everyone on the home front about the importance of rationing sugar.
Image: Public Domain

As a result, the U.S. government began rationing sugar on May 5 in an effort to ensure there was enough to supply American manufacturers, the military, and its citizens. At first, candy makers like Stuckey’s received 80% of the sugar they would normally use; however, that would later be reduced to only 50%. Consequently, just as housewives learned to be creative with their sugar rations, so did manufacturers. One thing’s for sure, however, W.S. Stuckey may have been short on sugar, but he certainly wasn’t short on creativity.

Stuckey’s Becomes a Casualty

The first news of sugar rationing must have worried candy maker W.S. Stuckey a little. After all, his business had grown pretty quick from its humble beginnings in 1937 as little lean-to shack along Route 23 in Eastman, Georgia from which Stuckey sold pecans and pecan candies his wife Ethel made at home in their kitchen. In fact, by the start of the war, that little pecan shack had grown into a handful of brick and mortar stores in Georgia and Florida that now made their own pecan candies in the stores themselves. Nonetheless, receiving 80% of the sugar they needed would be enough for the stores to survive.

When the supply of sugar was later reduced to 50%, however, Stuckey must have become gravely concerned. He was, in the end, a candy maker, and he needed sugar to do that.

To make matters worse, bootleggers broke into the Stuckey’s store in Folkston, Georgia, stealing all of the store’s sugar to make moonshine, setting the place on fire afterwards to hide any evidence.

The Eastman, Georgia, Stuckey’s would be the only one still standing after WWII.
Postcard Image: Stuckey’s Corp

It seemed as if things were, indeed, starting to look pretty bleak for Mr. Stuckey. This wasn’t the first time he had faced adversity, however, and he was determined to overcome these problems in much the same as he overcame those he experienced during the Great Depression.

Overcoming Adversity

A little over a decade before the Second World War, young Stuckey in his junior year of studying Law at the University of Georgia when he got a message from home: The price of cotton had hit rock bottom and his father’s cotton farm was failing. The Great Depression had finally hit home. Stuckey left university straight away and headed back home.

When he arrived, the situation was, indeed, dire. The farm didn’t even make enough money to buy feed for the plow mules, and while working the ploughs on his father’s farm, Stuckey would often have to help the mules back to their feet after they would collapse, unable to move due to exhaustion and starvation.

Stuckey knew something else had to be done, and after pleading with a family friend, he got a job buying and selling pecans. He eventually got so good at it that he went to business for himself. In 1937, he had a surplus supply of his pecan nuts, so he built that little lean-to and started selling his pecans to tourists traveling U.S. Route 23 on their way to and from Florida.

Eventually, he would convince his wife, Ethel, to take some of those pecans and make candy from them he could sell out of his little shack as well. After her pecan divinity and pecan praline candy became a hit, Ethel experimented with a pecan log recipe. The Stuckey’s pecan log roll so successful that Stuckey would build the very first Stuckey’s right there in Eastman. By the time the war came along in 1942, there were a handful Stuckey’s located in both Georgia and Florida.

Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll packaging circa World War II.
Photo: Stuckey’s Corp.

Indeed, if Stuckey could overcome the adversities that came along with the depression, he was determined he could overcome a sugar ration, too.

Sugar Swap

One way Stuckey overcame rationing during the war was through his uncanny ability to trade anything for sugar, and we mean anything! From nylon stockings and shoe stamps to cottonseed meal and fish guts – yes, you read that right – fish guts!  As a matter of fact, if you needed something and had sugar to trade for it, you could bet that Stuckey would find it for you to get that sugar.  As a result, Stuckey’ became one of the largest sugar traders in the country. In fact, there was one time when he swapped 60,000 pounds of sugar for 100,000 pounds of corn syrup with Tom’s Snacks of Columbus, Georgia.

Stuckey’s uncanny ability to trade anything for sugar likely stemmed from the fact that everybody liked him.
Photo: Stuckey’s Corp

Although sugar was the main commodity that Stuckey’s swapped with others, it wasn’t the only thing Stuckey was willing to trade to get customers into his stores. Since bus drivers were such an important part of his roadside businesses, he would often trade other war-rationed items such as cigarettes, shotgun shells, shoe stamps and meat stamps in exchange for them stopping their busses at his stores along their routes. As a result, busloads of travelers would stop into Stuckey’s throughout the war.

The Candy Man

Though Stuckey was good at finding ways to get his sugar, there was a time when it nearly landed him in a whole lot of trouble. You see, Stuckey had finally gotten his big break. Rich’s Department store in Atlanta had placed a rather large order with Stuckey’s that required him to turnaround a large amount of candy in a short amount of time. The problem was, Stuckey didn’t have enough sugar. So, doing what he did best, Stuckey made a phone call to a guy he knew in Miami and ordered 50,000 pounds of sugar from. However, instead of getting sugar, he got a visit from two FBI agents who explained that the sugar he ordered was actually sugar off the black market being sold by the mafia. Stuckey, who was well known and respected for his honesty, told the G-men everything he knew. In the end, they let him go; he was, after all, “just a candy man” to them.

The candy man can… and often did!
Photo: Stuckey’s Corp

Candy man, indeed, because another way Stuckey was able to get more sugar was by purchasing a small factory in Jacksonville, Florida that made stick candy.  This way, by lessening the amount of sugar he put in each pound of stick candy, he could send the leftover amount to the Stuckey’s plant in Eastman, thereby helping the brand survive the sugar ration of the war years.

Corny Coconut Candy

Sugar wasn’t the only candy ingredient that was rationed during the war years.   One of these ingredients was coconut and Stuckey was in very short supply.  However, once again using his creativity, he got some corn shucks from some local Georgia farmers, ground them up to look like coconut flakes and added some coconut flavoring from his Jacksonville factory and voila! You would never know there that coconut was being rationed the way people were buying up all of those coconut candy sticks afterwards.

Candy for the Troops

With sugar being rationed to 50%, much of the rest of the sugar was, of course, going to the War Department making sure the troops were well supplied. In fact, the U.S. Army was giving its soldiers twice what they had consumed as civilians. Yet, it seemed American servicemen and women still couldn’t get enough of the sweet stuff. In fact, a study by the Navy found that when military men and women bought food, they supplemented 40% of their rations with candy. 

And, certainly, they deserved it. After all, the troops were the ones putting their lives on the line all over the world.

Stuckey thought they deserved it, too, and doing his part for the war effort, he built a candy kitchen in his pecan warehouse. (The warehouse may not have been the most ideal location at only 240 square meters, but after adding some Coleman burners and getting a couple of boiling pots, the little kitchen “served its purpose”). As a result, Stuckey started making candy for the troops and boxing up it up to send to the troop’s right there in that little kitchen.

An example of the packaging design that came out of World War II.
Images: Stuckey’s Corp

Soon he was designing attractive boxes which proved to be a great marketing idea. And after hiring a few more salesmen, Stuckey’s was making more than $150,000 in candy sales to the American military by 1944.

Homecoming

When GI’s returned home after the war they started families and began taking family road trips to see some of the country they missed so much.  Many remembered the Stuckey’s candy from their ration kits and stopped at the Stuckey’s locations along their way. Certainly, Stuckey’s owes a lot of its success to our men and women in uniform who made sure that a Stuckey’s stop was included in their road trip itineraries after the war.

This Memorial Day, we recognize an even greater debt to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we all share as Americans today – and especially for us, it’s the freedom of the open road in our pursuit of highway happiness.

If you’re planning on hitting the road this Memorial Day weekend, don’t forget to also plan a few Stuckey’s stops along your way as well. After all, it’s not really a road trip without picking up a few of our famous Stuckey’s pecan log rolls and other road trip treats that make every trip a pleasure trip. And don’t forget to browse our wide selection of road trip souvenirs including our Stuckey’s branded t-shirts and caps for the folks back home.

This Memorial Day, Stuckey’s salutes the men and women who gave their lives for the cause of freedom.
Photo: Stephanie Stuckey

Forget something? Don’t worry! You can get all of your favorite Stuckey’s merchandise online and have it delivered right to your front door. In fact, if you order anything from Stuckey’s online this Memorial Day Weekend, go ahead and take an extra 10% off your purchase by entering the code STUCKEYS10. But hurry! This offer is only valid from Saturday, May 29 to Monday May 31 and only from stuckeys.com.

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!