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Jelly Beans: A Delicious Political History

Who knew this irresistible candy had so much bite?

Ronald Reagan, America’s 40th president and revered conservative icon, loved several things deeply. His country, his faith, his family — particularly his cherished Nancy — and one other thing: jelly beans.

Specifically, licorice jelly beans — his favorite flavor.

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Reagan started eating jelly beans in 1967 to help him quit a pipe-smoking habit, according to the Constitution Center. He always ate jelly beans made by the Goelitz family brand of candies, and stayed true to them his whole life.

“When I was a child, President Ronald Reagan was the nice man who gave us jelly beans when we visited the White House,” former Rep. Ben Quayle of Arizona wrote in an article for Politico.com. “I didn’t know then, but I know it now: The jelly beans were much more than a sweet treat that he gave out as gifts. They represented the uniqueness and greatness of America — each one different and special in its own way, but collectively they blended in harmony.”

Reagan’s love of the small sweet candies took the family-run company from small dot on the candy map to confectionary giant almost singlehandedly.

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The president “made us a worldwide company overnight,” said company chairman Herman Rowland, according to Fox News.

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The family candy company was started in 1869 in Belleville, Illinois, by Gustav Goelitz, then 24 years old. More than 100 years later it was still going strong and had relocated to Oakland, California. The future president started eating Goelitz Mini Gourmet Jelly Beans as governor of that state. The company sent Reagan a monthly jelly bean shipment throughout his two terms in office. It also custom-designed a jar for the governor’s jelly beans.

When Goelitz introduced the Jelly Belly brand of jelly bean in 1976, he included the new jelly beans in Reagan’s regular shipment.

Within two years, Reagan was a straight Jelly Belly man; his shipments from then on were made up of only that brand.

Jelly beans followed Reagan into the highest office in the land. The sweet treats were on hand for the new commander-in-chief’s inauguration on January 20, 1981 — two-and-a-half tons of red, white and blue jelly beans. Rowland even traveled to Washington to help design a special jelly bean jar bearing the presidential seal.

The company supplied Jelly Belly beans to President Reagan for all eight years of his presidency, from 1981 to 1989.

“It’s gotten to the point where we can hardly start a meeting or make a decision without passing around the jar of jelly beans,” Reagan wrote to Rowland in 1973.

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In 2001, Goelitz combined two companies, the Herman Goelitz Candy Company in California and the Goelitz Confectionary Company in Chicago, forming one corporation known as Jelly Belly Candy Company.

In the candy world, Jelly Belly jelly beans are a gourmet item. The company told LifeZette its most popular flavors today are very cherry, buttered popcorn — and licorice.

“Their manufacturer, Herman Goelitz Co., of Oakland maintains that the flavors are so delicate that the beans should be eaten one at a time, not by the vulgar handful,” wrote Eliza Berman in Time magazine in 2015. “How else to appreciate the richness of the coffee mocha, the tang of the piña colada, the bouquet of the strawberry daiquiri?”

After Reagan’s death on June 5, 2004, mourners left jelly beans in Reagan’s memory at his presidential library and other locations, Fox News reported at the time.

There are several tributes to the former president at the Visitor’s Center in Fairfield, California. One shows him in front of the American flag, depicted in cherry, coconut and blueberry jelly beans. Another is a mosaic of strawberry daiquiri, bubble gum and other flavors that depicts both Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

The same gentle yet decisive man and world leader who ended the Cold War and presented a timeless brand of bedrock conservatism once said, “Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, leave the rest to God.”

He also said this: “You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jelly beans.”

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