Archibald Query. You may not know his name, but if you have spent much time in New England, there is a very good chance you know a product he sold for a few short years leading up to World War I.
One hundred years ago, beginning in 1917, he cooked batches of melted marshmallows at home and sold them door-to-door in his neighborhood in Somerville, MA. Sadly, a World War I sugar shortage ended his enterprise. In 1920, Query sold his recipe to Massachusetts-based candymakers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower, for $500.
It’s the same recipe now as it was 100 years ago: sugar, dried egg whites, corn syrup, and vanilla. The recipe is simple to follow: melt the corn syrup and sugar, add egg whites and vanilla. To this day, the secret that remains is how long Durkee and Mower whips the Fluff.
Four generations of the Durkee family have run Durkee-Mower, in a series of factories in Lynn, MA. The factory they bought in 1929 proved too small by 1934, and they moved to a larger one. In the 1950s, they moved again to their current home, a factory designed solely for their marshmallow crème. This factory allowed the company to increase production from 80 to 125 jars per minute. They’ve been there ever since, selling 5 to 7 million pounds of Fluff a year. The machines work year round, much of the work in anticipation of the October, November, and December months, when the company sees 60% of their annual sales.
A lot of the equipment at the plant is original, which Durkee-Mower acknowledges is a challenge for maintenance. Durkee-Mower is one of three companies in America producing marshmallow crème. The others are Kraft, making Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Crème, and Solo’s Marshmallow Crème. There is, as we know, only one Fluff.
Durkee-Mower was an early advertiser on radio, dating back to the 1920s. Their spots aired in prime just before The Ed Sullivan Show, giving them great household recognition in Massachusetts. Durkee-Mower invested heavily in branding in the 1950s and ‘60s to become a national brand, hiring the graphic designer who modernized the Quaker Oats man to create the logo that appears on Marshmallow Fluff jars today.
“Because it’s been around for 100 years, everyone can associate it with their own childhood,” Mimi Graney, author of the book Fluff: The Sticky Sweet Story of an American Icon said. “And because the packaging hasn’t changed very much, people feel that sense of familiarity.” But it was a certain sandwich combo that would cement Marshmallow Fluff’s place in the all-American foods hall of fame. The Fluffernutter sandwich: peanut butter and Fluff, on white bread.
Here is a spot said to be from the 1970s, for the Fluffernutter sandwich:
And one from the 1990s. Fun fact, the young skateboarder, Andy Mac, went on to become a pro skateboarder.
Fluff’s hometown, Somerville, has been celebrating Fluff every year at the What the Fluff? festival in Union Square. The festival will celebrate its eleventh installment this September, but none of Durkee family has ever attended. One of the major draws of the festival’s costume contest is the grand prize, which is a tour of the Durkee-Mower factory in Lynn, which does not offer public tours.