The Origin of Salt Water Taffy

Young Leonora
Young Leonora listens to the tide report before setting out on her historic trip to the end of Stearns Wharf to fetch a pail of seawater.

The Origins of Salt Water Taffy
(according to Mother Stearns)


In October 1872, a peg-legged attorney-turned-lumberman named John Stearns completed his wharf at the foot of State Street. Thereafter, lumber arriving from the north by ship could be unloaded directly onto wagons, rather than being floated ashore on the high tides. Christmas that year, John’s wife decided to cook up a batch of her taffy for the wharf workers, called stevedores.

Working in the kitchen behind John’s office (which later would become “The Harbor Restaurant”), Mother Stearns instructed her daughter Leonora to fetch a pail of water for the candy. As the nearest well was some distance up State Street, the inventive child simply lowered a bucket from the wharf and returned with the water to her mother’s kitchen. Mother Stearns unknowingly used the saltwater in the candy. When the delicious but unusual flavor was remarked upon by many of the men, Mother Stearns investigated and Leonora confessed to performing her chore the easy way.

However, candy history had been made! From then on, Mother Stearns drew a pail of seawater for each batch of marvelous “Saltwater Taffy” she created. Today, we still follow Mother Stearns’ original recipe for the world’s first Saltwater Taffy. Of course, we now use purified water and we add the sea salt. But the flavor remains unchanged.

Just ask any stevedore you meet.

Return to Mother Stearns Candy Company.

Stearns Wharf