At this joyous time of year, it seems appropriate to reflect on the origin of Valentine’s Day, a special holiday created in the spirit of love and/or capitalism.
Nowadays people tend to overlook details hidden among the annals of history, and few realize that Valentine’s Day was created by the Hershey Corporation in February 1902. Towards the end of 1901, blizzards of intensities unmatched in history plagued the entire United States. Confined to their homes, people could not shop for stocking stuffers, Hanukkah gelt, and various assorted candies. Threatened by a surplus of chocolate and candy following the winter holidays, Hershey found itself in a quandary, poised to lose more than one hundred grand.
When President and CEO Chuck “Coco” Brown realized the usual post-Christmas sales were significantly below average, he knew decisive action was necessary. Brown was not alone: the president of Nestl* was also experiencing a crunch.
Mars, Nestl*, and Hershey formed a joint committee to analyze the problem. Chuck Brown named the austere Mr. Goodbar as the head, in spite of his staunch refusal to reveal his first name. Theodore Roosevelt, then President of the US, tried to break up the chocolate cartel, but the attempt melted in his hand.
After hours of debate, Goodbar, with the help of intern Russell Stover (best known today for his marketing of Whitman’s sampler), found only one feasible solution: the creation of a new holiday that required the exchange of candy between loved ones. Such a holiday would revive the candy industry just enough to rid the corporations of mounds of excess chocolate, and could boost profits far into the forseeable future.
After several days of intense research in the special dark realms of Hershey’s library, three nerds known today only as “the three musketeers” dug up the story of Saint Valentine. His grisly martyrdom on February 14, 269 A.D. made him the obvious choice for a holiday celebrating romance, and the date was quickly assigned.
While the myth would contribute to the plan’s success, Brown and Goodbar realized that men were unlikely to go out and purchase gifts for their wives or girlfriends without adequate pressure to do so. Brown found himself betwixt a rock and a hard place. He shared his concerns with publicist John Reese:
“Butterfingers! How can we coerce men to buy gifts, John?”
“Gimme a break!” Reese replied. “It’s as easy as taking candy from a baby. All we have to do is make men feel guilty.”
Reese devised a shrewd promotional campaign with witty slogans like, “All of the pleasure and none of the guilt,” “There’s no wrong way to buy your woman lots and lots of candy and chocolate,” and “A man who doesn’t buy you candy and chocolate for Valentine’s doesn’t deserve your love.”
Thus began the long string of fun-flavored combinations of encouragements.
Sadly, their creator, Reese, would not see the great triumph of February 14th. In a series of still unexplained occurrences, Reese suffered a nervous breakdown. Legend has it he was schizophrenic and suffered from hallucinations: whatever it was he thought he could see became a Tootsie Roll to him. Despite Reese’s quirkiness, many have shared fond memories of Reese’s happy-go-lucky cowboy alter ego, the “Jolly Rancher.”
What is certain is that he went nutrageous and was committed to a mental hospital, remaining there for the rest of his life. Little else is known about Reese after he went to pieces.
The date was set, and the advertising began in mid-January. Public acceptance was startlingly fast. By the time February 14th had finally arrived, the surplus had been dissolved, and the following day everyone celebrated payday. The amazing success convinced the candy corporations to make Valentine’s Day a permanent holiday. The sweet achievement of selling so much candy in a matter of weeks is unfortunately given little notice in modern history.
So this Valentine’s Day, take a moment to reflect and thank the men on Fifth Avenue who created this holiday. And don’t snicker at this tale. It’s all true, no sugar added.
Jules Lipoff is a junior in Pierson College. He is the chairman of the Yale Record.