William E. Brock’s company wasn’t the first to mass market the delightful French concoction in the US. That distinction goes to the New York City firm Cella’s Confections, which began large scale production in 1929. But Brock Candy Company was well positioned to become a major competitor.
During the 1930s, Brock introduced its own chocolate covered cherries, which quickly became a nationwide favorite. That particular candy not only helped the company survive the lean Depression era but would remain one of its biggest sellers for the next 60 years.
By 1930, William E. Brock had already been in the candy making big leagues for more than two decades. Born in North Carolina, he’d been a traveling salesman for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. when, in 1906, he decided to settle down in Chattanooga, TN. He borrowed money and invested with some associates in a small wholesale grocery shop, which also held a candy shop, the Trigg Candy Company.
Brock continued the candy making operation, which consisted of handmade penny and bulk candies, peanut brittle, peppermints, and fudge. Using the experience and connections he had made as a traveling salesman, he sold primarily through former clients in small country stores.
Three years later, he bought his partners out and reincorporated the company as Brock Candy Company.
Sugar rationing during World War I hampered the business, but in 1920 the company introduced a five-cent peanut stick that became a big seller. In the early part of that decade it modernized its factory, installing automatic moguls (a starch molding machine).
Next, Brock eliminated all slab confectionery items, such as peanut brittle and fudge, which were products already produced by many manufacturers, making that area extremely competitive. Instead, Brock concentrated on launching new lines of jelly and marshmallow candies, using the new automated moguls. Also during the 1920s, Brock worked with the DuPont Company to develop and test the packaging of candy in cellophane bags. His company was one of the first candy makers to use cellophane bags, and it influenced the entire candy industry.
Brock found innovative ways to deal with the problems presented by the Depression. When the bank moratorium of 1933 made it impossible for Brock workers to cash their paychecks, Brock collected his daily receipts from local retailers of his candies and paid his employees in cash.
In addition to his prosperous candy manufacturing, William E. Brock also had involvements in insurance and banking interests. He became a trustee of the former University of Chattanooga, now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Emory and Henry College, and also Martha Washington College.
Undoubtedly because of his high visibility in the public affairs of Chattanooga, Brock was appointed U.S. senator by Tennessee Gov. Henry Horton in September 1929, after the death of Sen. Lawrence D. Tyson in a Philadelphia sanitarium. Sen. Brock Sr. was elected for a short term in 1930 and served until March 1931. He was considered a Woodrow Wilson Democrat.
His son, William, Jr., succeeded him to head the company. By the time of his death in 1950, Brock Sr. had built his family-run company into the South’s—and Appalachia’s—largest candy maker.