BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania — Ira “Bob” Born, a candy company executive known as the “Father of the Peeps” for mechanizing the process of making marshmallow chicks, has died. He was 98.
Just Born Quality Confections, the 100-year-old family business that Born has run for much of his life, said Monday that he died peacefully on Sunday.
Born began his life on September 29, 1924 in New York City. His father, Sam Born, was a Russian immigrant who founded Just Born shortly before his son was born. The family later moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where Just Born is still based.
Bob Born graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in engineering physics. He enlisted in the US Navy and served as a radar specialist and lieutenant on a destroyer in the Pacific. The Navy later sent him to the University of Arizona and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to earn degrees in mathematics and physics.
Born applied to medical school and was accepted, but while waiting for his classes to start he went to work at Just Born. He fell in love with the candy business and decided to stay.
“The candy business was kind of catchy … it was interesting to him,” Ross Born, Bob Born’s son, told the Lehigh Valley News. “He enjoyed the science, the technology, the processing. He was very interested in the equipment.”
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In 1953, Just Born acquired Rodda Candy Co., a jelly bean maker that made hand-molded marshmallow candies as a side business. Back then, it took about 27 hours to make the marshmallows.
Bob Born saw the potential of the candy, so he and a company engineer designed and built a machine to make them in under six minutes. The company’s current machines, still based on Bob Born’s design, now pump out 5.5 million peeps a day.
Seventy years later, Peeps remains Just Born’s best-known candy brand, the company says. Just Born makes about 2 billion peeps each year, or enough to circumnavigate the earth two and a half times. It sells the most around Easter, but there are also versions sold for Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and other holidays.
Bob Born also came up with the recipe for another popular Just Born candy, Hot Tamales. Just Born also makes Mike and Ike fruit chews and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews.
Bob Born became President of Just Born in 1959 and held that role for more than 30 years. He last visited the Just Born factory on February 15, 2019, when the City of Bethlehem declared the first day of Easter as “Bob Born Day.”
He spent most of his retirement in Florida, where he ran a literacy program and pursued hobbies such as photography. He was active until a few months before his death, when he was struggling to recover from a serious fall.
“Bob will be remembered as a tireless and passionate advocate for the confectionery industry and a wonderful supporter of our community,” said David Shaffer, co-CEO and chairman of Just Born, in a statement released by the company.
He is survived by his widow Patricia; children Sarah and Ross; five grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. His funeral will be private.
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