Valentin'es Day is one week away. Romance is in the air… and has littered store shelves for weeks. Cards, jewelry, and stuffed animals catch the shopper’s eyes, as do dozens of heart-shaped candy boxes; delectable chocolates in various sizes, some with nuts, some without and others with fruity fillings. While choosing a sentiment for your sweetie, odds are good you’ll gift him or her with a box of Russell Stover Candies, the largest producer of boxed chocolates in the United States.
Russell Stover was born May 6, 1888 in Alton, Kansas. His parents had moved to Alton from Iowa to Kansas to seek a fortune, but returned to Iowa to farm after a Kansas drought. As a young man, Stover attended Iowa City Academy. From there he went to the University of Iowa to study chemistry. He left the university after one year and moved to Chicago to earn a living as a salesman. His first endeavor was with a candy company. His second job was with the American Tobacco Company. It was right before he made his move to Chicago that he met Clara Lewis at a sweet shop.
Clara was born in 1882 and grew up on a farm near Oxford. As a young woman, she borrowed money from a neighbor to study music at Iowa City Academy. She had seen Russell around campus, noting he was tall, with blue eyes and a winsome smile, and thought he was an industrious student.
Russell and Clara hit it off from the beginning. Each were big dreamers, and after a courtship, they married June of 1911. One of their wedding gifts was a farm in Canada, but growing wheat in Saskatchewan didn’t pan out for them, so they moved to Winnepeg and began a candy-making business in their apartment. They moved back to the states in 1915 when rumors of an impending war reached them.
Russell Stover turned to selling candy throughout the Midwest to earn a living. In 1920, he and Clara moved to Des Moines where he took a job as superintendent of Irwin Candy Co. The company failed and the court appointed Stover to run the company. He sold the assets to Graham Ice Cream Co in Omaha. He and Clara moved there, with Russell going to work for Graham Ice Cream.
In 1921, Stover met Christian Nelson, a school teacher and soda jerk who had the idea for a chocolate covered ice cream bar. Russell and Clara partnered with Nelson and eventually the Eskimo Pie was born. During this time, Clara continued experimenting with chocolate and sweet treats in her kitchen, perfecting her skills and recipes. Later, she and Russell sold their share in Eskimo Pie and started Mrs. Stover’s Bungalow Candies in Denver, with Clara as the president and secretary and Russell as vice-president and treasurer. They were a hit with the public and hired workers to help in their home before opening their first factory in Denver in 1925. A second factory opened in Kansas City in 1931, with Russell and Clara now making their home in Kansas City. The company struggled through the Depression and World War I. Russell and Clara lost much of their wealth, and in 1943, determined to rebuild and succeed again, they restructured the company to form a partnership with faithful employees. The company was renamed Russell Stover Candy, with Clara’s name being removed.
|Russell & Clara in younger years|
During their long marriage, Russell and Clara had one daughter, Gloria. Russell died May 11, 1954 in Miami at the couple’s home. Clara died June 9, 1975 in Mission Hills, Kansas. She was 93. After Russell’s death, Clara managed the company until 1960, when Russell Stover Candies was sold to Louis Ward. In July of 2014, Swiss-chocolate maker Lindt bought Russell Stover Candies and remains the owner.