Atlantic City, N.J. — A binge of casino construction has changed the character of this seaside resort, but a few vestiges of old-time Atlantic City remain -- the Boardwalk and salt water taffy.
Arthur Gager and Henry Glaser are two entrepreneurs up to their elbows in the stickiest business on the Boardwalk.
You see, Gager and Glaser are the makers, respectively, of Fralinger's and James' salt water taffy. But even the taffy business has seen some big changes.
The methods of cooking have changed dramatically over the years since 1883 when, legend has it, salt water taffy was "invented."
Candy merchant David Bradley operated a tiny taffy stand on the old Boardwalk , which then was a mere two feet above sand level. The morning after a higher than usual tide, Bradley discovered his taffy had become "all wet." When a little girl asked for some taffy, Bradley replied: "You mean salt water taffy."
And as that name began to catch on, he had muslin signs made up advertising his taffy as "Salt Water Taffy."
"Salt water taffy was first cooked over an open fire, cooled on marble slabs, and 'pulled' on a large hook on the wall," related Mr. Gager of Fralinger's, which has four taffy stores on the Boardwalk. "Pulling taffy is designed to add air to the corn syrup and sugar confection."
Now, however, most salt water taffy is pulled by a "mechanical taffy puller," which can pull 250 pounds of the sticky substance at one time before it is cooled and mechanically cut and wrapped.
Joseph Glaser, who with his brothers, Otto, Henry, and Frank, bought out James' when Lee and Henry James retired in 1947, has done some hand-pulling of taffy in his time. Yet, like competitor Gager, he, too, has learned to depend almost entirely on the mechanical puller and modern cooking apparatus. As for changes in the taste of taffy, he says emphatically, "You don't want to change."
The Fralinger's "formula" has remained the same, too, insists Gager, who quickly adds that it is "top secret." Gager, who runs Fralinger's for descendants of the original family, first worked in the company's factory 18 years ago when he was attending Atlantic City High School.
Fralinger's wraps each piece of taffy twice -- in wax paper and then in cellophane -- before it is packed in a variety of boxes and novelty containers.
The company has toyed with the idea of updating the picture of the Boardwalk hotels that appears on the boxes since so many of these hotels have been torn down to make way for casino gambling. But plans for much of the new construction are in limbo. Many investors have backed out of casino development projects -- some eyeing greener pastures in New York and Miami, when and if casinos are legalized in those cities.
But Fralinger's and James' continue -- selling to tourists as well as by mail order around the world.
There's just one more thing that has changed over the years: the price. When Joseph F. Fralinger made his first batch of salt water taffy in 1886, a bag of taffy sold for 5 cents. Today, both firms sell one-pound boxes for $2.50.