ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Mimi Graney reads from her book at the Lynn Museum/LynnArts 117th annual meeting.
By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
LYNN — Mimi Graney, author of “FLUFF: The Sticky Sweet Story of an American Icon,” shared a sweet part of Lynn’s history at the Lynn Museum’s annual meeting.
Made in Lynn, the sticky sweet marshmallow spread was invented in 1917 by Archibald Query. On May 14, 1920, the Daily Evening Item announced that two young men, H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower had formed a partnership to manufacture Marshmallow Fluff after purchasing the recipe.
The exact date they began the endeavor is unknown, but in 1930, Durkee wrote that they had started a decade prior with one barrel of sugar, a few tin cans, two spoons, one second-hand Ford, no customers, but plenty of prospects.
Durkee and Mower were graduates of Swampscott High School who went on to serve in the U.S. Army together during World War I. Mower took a job in Boston working at a candy factory shortly after returning home, around the time of The Great Molasses Flood.
In 1919, a tank carrying 2 million gallons of molasses burst on Boston’s waterfront, sending a sticky 15-foot wave, 160 feet wide, traveling through the North End. More than $100 million worth of damage was caused and 21 people were killed.
Graney said Mower took the job because of the sweet tooth he developed while serving in the army. During WWI, members of the military consumed more chewing gum than chewing tobacco for the first time in history, she said.
But through the job Mower met Query, who had invented the Fluff recipe at his Somerville home in 1917. He and Durkee pooled their money to purchase the recipe for $500. They factory moved from Swampscott to Brookline Street in Lynn in the 1920s and the staff grew to 10 members.
Today, Durkee-Mower, Inc. has more than 20 employees who manufacture between 35,000 and 40,000 pounds of Fluff each day. Durkee’s son, Donald Durkee, serves as the company’s president; his grandson, Jon Durkee, as treasurer and vice president.
The simple, four-ingredient recipe using sugar syrup, corn syrup, eggs and vanilla to concoct the sweet treat remains unchanged.
Charges dropped against harbormaster
Graney said for her, the story of the history behind Marshmallow Fluff is about the merits and pitfalls of adaptation and innovation. Her 288-page book was published in March 2017 by Union Park Press.
In her presentation, she divulged details of the behind-the-scenes characters responsible for Durkee-Mower’s success, including advertisers who wrote jingles as commercial radio made its debut; Fannie Farmer, who used marshmallow paste in several recipes listed in her 1986 cookbook, and Marjorie Mills, a journalist for The Boston Sunday Herald who endorsed the sweet spread.
She performed jingles from the Flufferette radio commercials and explained that they had a primetime slot on Sunday evenings.
Graney spent endless hours at Durkee-Mower in Lynn researching the history of the company through scrapbooks and memorabilia. She is also the founder of the What the Fluff? Festival in Somerville, which is attended by about 10,000 people each year who compete in fluff lick-offs, among other activities.
Lynn Museum is selling Marshmallow Fluff t-shirts for $20 each. They can be purchased at the front desk.
During the meeting, Steve Rima, who stepped down from the Historical Society’s Board of Directors after more than two decades, paid tribute to Tim Ring, a board member who died earlier this year from a heart attack.
Ring was a long-time teacher who retired from Lynn English High School last June. In addition to raising thousands of dollars for the museum, he was responsible for connecting several Lynn Public Schools students and organizations to the invaluable resource, said Rima.
“We were lucky to have him associated with the museum,” he said.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte