Candy by the Decade: A Time Capsule of Halloween Treats

Although many people think of trick-or-treating a uniquely American tradition, the truth is that it’s existed in some form since the Middle Ages, when people would dress up in disguises at the end of the harvest year to fool the demons that they believe roamed freely at the end of one year and into the beginning of another.

When the Catholic Church rose to prominence, they co-opted many indigenous holidays into their religious calendar, turning this celebration of the end of the harvest into All Hallow’s Eve and All Soul’s Day, which are still celebrated in churches around the globe today. Instead of dressing in disguises to fool demons, people would dress up and go from door to door in costume while offering prayers for the souls of the recently departed. They were often paid for this service with food or money. The practice migrated to the United States in the form of mischief and mayhem that was often conducted during the same period of the year, which calmed down to the benign custom that we know today around the 1920s.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the candy that has grown up with this custom, and what people in each decade could have expected to receive while trick-or-treating.


The 1920s saw the rise of the trick-or-treating custom that we know today. Previously, children would engage in mild acts of mischief like drawing with chalk on the sidewalk in front of businesses, slamming garden gates, and scaring passersby. It’s thought that the custom of going around to neighbors and asking for candy was invented to try and distract kids from making mischief.

At the time, the most popular candy bar was the Baby Ruth, which was invented in 1921 by the Curtiss Candy Company. It was the first time that nuts had been included in candy bars in any real way, which other companies used as inspiration for offerings like the Butterfinger (which was invented in 1923) and Peanut Butter Cups, which were introduced in 1928.