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The jawbreaker is a type of hard, round candy that is ideally so difficult to bite down on that it must be sucked. Jawbreakers range from the size of a hazel nut to the size of a golf ball, and come in many flavors and colors. They are popular with children, and often sold in vending machines. Though originally a trade name, the term jawbreaker became so widespread that it is considered a generic name for any brand candy of this type.


Both written and pictorial records indicate Egyptians prepared sweets with honey, sweet fruits, spices, and nuts. Sugar was not known in Egypt, and the first written evidence of its appearance dates to A.D. 500 in India. The method of making sugar from the boiled syrup of the sugarcane plant spread from India through the Arab world, and sugar was introduced to Europe sometime around A.D. 1100 It was first thought of as a spice, and even up through the fifteenth century, sugar was so rare that it was used, for the most part, only medicinally, prescribed in minute doses by physicians. By the sixteenth century, widespread sugarcane cultivation and the technology for refining sugar developed sufficiently that sugar was not such a precious commodity. Small manufacturers produced crude candies in Europe at that time. The methods used were all simple, and produced the kinds of candies that could still be made at home today. By the late eighteenth century, entrepreneurs had developed candy-making machinery, and more complex candies were made and on a greater scale.

Candies are distinguished in broad categories by their hardness, and this corresponds to the temperature to which the sugar is heated. Sugar cooked at a low temperature results in chewy candy; medium heating results in a soft candy; and sugar cooked at a high temperature becomes hard candy, where the sugar is fully crystallized. The jawbreaker, being a type of hard candy, is similar to many candies popular in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. These hard candies were generally sold singly. A storekeeper pulled out the desired number of pieces from a loose bunch in a glass case or jar. By the mid-1800s, there were close to 400 candy factories operating in the United States, turning out penny candy and other types.

The jawbreaker was made famous by the Ferrara Pan Candy Company of Forest Park, Illinois. The origin of the name, however, is obscure. The word jawbreaker first showed up in the English language in 1839, used to mean a "hard-to-pronounce word." Later, it was used as a slang or derogatory term for a dentist. Ferrara Pan was founded by an Italian immigrant to the United States, Salvatore Ferrara, in 1919. Ferrara came to the United States in 1900. Though he was a skilled confectioner, for years he worked various odd jobs, including as dishwasher and as a railroad foreman. Eventually, he saved up enough money to open his own pastry shop in Chicago in 1908. Among his products was a kind of sugar-coated almond known in Italy as confetti. These became so popular that Ferrara started a separate company to make them. In 1919, Ferrara teamed up with his two brothers-in-law, and founded the Ferrara Pan Candy Company. The new corporation focused on making candies in the hot pan and cold pan process. Ferrara Pan produced many well known confections, including Boston Baked Beans and Red Hots, as well as its original Jaw Breakers. These candies became so popular that the earlier meanings of the term jawbreaker disappeared, and it began to be applied to all candies of this type. There are many manufacturers of jawbreakers today, though Ferrara Pan remains the leading maker of hot pan candies in the world.

Raw Materials

The crucial ingredient in the jawbreaker is sugar. All other ingredients form only a tiny percentage of the finished candy. Jawbreakers use natural and artificial flavors and a variety of artificial colors. Manufacturers may also add calcium stearate, a binding agent, and a wax such as carnauba wax, to provide a shiny, polished surface.

The Manufacturing Process

Jawbreakers are made by the hot pan process, and the type of pan used is very important. Candy-making pans are little like pans found in an ordinary kitchen. They are huge spherical copper kettles with a wide mouth. The pans rotate constantly over a gas flame so the sugar inside is kept tumbling. The worker who makes candy in using these pans is known as a panner.

Pouring the sugar

  • 1 A worker puts granulated sugar into the pan while the pan heats over its gas flame. Each grain of sugar in the pan will eventually become a jawbreaker as it crystallizes, and other grains crystallize around it in a spherical pattern. The panner begins this process by filling a beaker with hot liquid sugar. Using a ladle, the panner carefully pours the liquid sugar into the pan along its edges. The liquid sugar adheres to the sugar grains, and the jawbreakers begin to grow. But this is a lengthy process. With the pans continually rotating, the panner keeps adding liquid sugar at intervals over a period of 14-19 days. In total, the panner may add liquid sugar more than 100 times. The panner or another worker inspects the jawbreakers visually, to make sure the candies are growing perfectly round, and not lopsided.

Adding other ingredients

  • 2 Most jawbreakers are colored only in the outer layers. The panner adds the color and flavor ingredients to the pan when the jawbreakers are almost their finished size. The coloring and flavoring are pre-measured into a small bottle or beaker, and the panner pours them in carefully along the edge of the pan. As the pan rotates, all the jawbreakers in the pan receive the coloring and flavoring equally.


  • 3 After approximately two weeks, the jawbreakers have reached their desired diameter, and they are removed from the hot pan to a polishing pan. This pan looks essentially the same as the hot pan. A worker pours the jawbreakers into the polisher and sets it to rotate. Food-grade wax is added, and coats each individual candy as the polisher revolves. After polishing, the jawbreakers are finished, and are now ready for packaging.


  • 4 The first step of packaging is to measure the jawbreakers into small batches. This is done by a measuring machine. A worker loads the finished jawbreakers onto a tilted ramp. All the different colors can be mixed together at this point, so that the small batches hold an assortment. The jawbreakers roll down and fall into the central chute of the measuring machine. From the chute, the candies fall into trays that are arranged on spiral arms around the central chute. Each tray will only hold a specific weight, for example one pound. As soon as the weight is reached, the tray swings out of the way and the next tray loads. As the top trays fill, the bottom trays dump into the bagging machine.


  • 5 Bagging is done automatically on a large machine that holds a wide spool of thin plastic on a revolving drum. The plastic is in a single layer at this point. The bagging machine forms the bags out of this material, fills them, and then seals them. The plastic may be imprinted with the logo of the candy manufacturer and any other necessary information. The machine unwinds a section of plastic from the roll and pulls it across a form that causes the plastic to fold length-wise in two. Heated jaws press along the fold and melt the two sides together, forming the side seam. The folded plastic is then drawn upwards again, and another pair of heated jaws clamp the bottom, forming another seam. Now the machine automatically cuts the top of the bag and holds it open. The pre-measured amount of jawbreakers from the measuring machine drops in, and more heated jaws then clamp the bag shut along the top. The filled and sealed bags then drop onto a conveyor belt. Workers take them off the belt and toss them into packing boxes. At this point the jawbreakers are ready for distribution or storage.

Quality Control

Quality control is generally simple for jawbreakers. They are a relatively pure product, since they are close to 100% sugar. Workers rely on visual inspection to make sure a batch of jawbreakers is forming correctly. Since the process of making these candies takes about two weeks, and the pans are open, workers have many opportunities to observe the jawbreakers and see that they are shaped right. Each day, a worker may remove several jawbreakers from the batch in process and break them open. The crystalline structure inside should look like concentric rings. Workers also do a taste test. Making jawbreakers is a process that requires little technology, and quality control does not demand any elaborate chemical or physical analysis.


If quality control reveals any defective jawbreakers, they cannot be melted down and reused. Since the sugar is crystallized throughout the product, it would have to be ground down. So there may be a small amount of waste in the process, if a portion of the product has to be thrown out. Otherwise, the manufacturing process creates no byproducts.

Where to Learn More


Broekel, Ray. The Great American Candy Bar Book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, Inc., 1982.

Mintz, Sydney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.


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Punk group

Launched in the early 1990s by the same East Bay punk scene that produced Green Day, punk trio Jawbreaker became heroes, for a time. Fans took easily to their aggressive guitar sounds and powerful songs about love, self-image, depression, and angst, written with witty, self-referential lyrics. Their three independent albums as a group, Unfun, Bivouac, and 24-Hour Revenge Therapy built the group a passionate following on the national and international indie rock scene. Their first and only major label release, Dear You, was not received well by fans, and brought the group to its end. Though they played together as Jaw-breaker for just six years, the group made a lasting impact. Rolling Stone online described the trio as a "legendary and absolutely incredible emotional punk rock band."

Gravel-voiced singer and guitarist Blake Schwarzen-bach and drummer Adam Pfahler met while attending high school in Santa Monica, California. The two had music in commonboth were fans of the Southern California punk-rock label SST. They formed a group called Red Harvest before Schwarzenbach left for New York City to study English at New York University. Schwarzenbach met bassist Chris Bauermeister in New York in 1988, and the two would spend school breaks in Los Angeles rehearsing and recording with Pfahler. They managed to record several singles, EPs, and ultimately an album in this part-time fashion. Their debut album, Unfun, was released in 1989 on the independent Shredder record label.

After graduation from college, the trio decided to settle on one coast, and all moved to San Francisco's Mission District. The band's second album, Bivouac, was recorded in San Francisco in 1991. Five songs from the session were released in early 1992 on the Chester-field King EP, and the album was released later that year with "Chesterfield King" and eight other songs from the session.

The summer and fall of 1992 found Jawbreaker on its first major tour, called the "Hell is on the Way" tour, which started in the United States and then traveled to Europe. Before long, the arduous touring schedule and Schwarzenbach's raspy, gravelly singing style caught up with him. In October of 1992, after inexplicably coughing up blood, he had to undergo surgery to remove polyps from his throat. In fact, the whole band was in rough shape: Bauermeister suffered from ulcers and back and shoulder trouble, and Pfahler had two surgeriesone to fix his knee, and another to repair a collapsed artery.

Despite their physical travails, the group managed to record 24-Hour Revenge Therapy in March of 1993. The album was recorded in Chicago and produced by Steve Albini just in time for Jawbreaker to head back out on the road for their "When it Pains it Roars" tour. They recorded a few more songs for the album after the tour, and then made a decision that would fore-shadow their fate as a band. In late October of 1993, Jawbreaker decided to play a few Midwest dates with Nirvana, then the poster boys for mainstream, punk-rock sellouts. After those dates, Jawbreaker was plagued by criticism from fans whose allegiances ran with the independent rock scene and rejected anything that smelled remotely of corporate America. Interviewers bombarded them with questions about their aspirations as a rock band, and Jawbreaker maintained that no, they did not have major-label dreams. Schwarzenbach repeatedly expressed his anti-corporate sentiments.

24-Hour Revenge Therapy was released in 1994 on the Tupelo/Communion record label. It revealed more of the group's sound than had the lush and moody Bivouac. Jawbreaker toured relentlessly in the United States and Europe throughout 1994 on their "Come Get Some" tour. Rumors continued about the group's major-label flirtations, which eventually turned out to be true.

Jawbreaker's 1995 deal with David Geffen's major DGC label facilitated the group's untimely end. With the breakout, mainstream success of Green Day's Dookie the year before, Jawbreaker decided to do something they had vowed countless times not to. Lured by a reported one-million-dollar deal, the trio signed with the Geffen label, one of largest of the majors at the time. Fans were stunned. Jawbreaker had broken the code of independent rock. According to an interview in Punk Planet, fans decided, "They were sell-outs. They were rock stars. They were failures."

Dear You, produced by Green Day's producer Rob Cavallo and released in 1995, confirmed the worst fears of Jawbreaker fans. Produced with a luxurious studio budget, as opposed to the tight schedules and financial constraints they'd recorded under before, the album bore "all the earmarks of a classic major-label sellout," according to Trouser Press online, which added that Schwarzenbach "sings rather than shouts," creating a "glossier, more radio-friendly sound." Fans were so unimpressed that they sometimes showed up just to jeer the band when they opened concerts for the group the Foo Fighters. The album produced a minor hit, the single "Fireman."

Pfahler characterized the release of Dear You as "the beginning of the end of something I could never fully enjoy," according to the Complete Jawbreaker Page online. Disheartened and disillusioned, Schwarzen-bach, Pfahler, and Bauermeister agreed to call it a day in the summer of 1996. The three were listless for a while, but eventually moved on. Schwarzenbach went on to lead the moderately popular group Jets to Brazil, Pfahler opened a video store in San Francisco and founded the Blackball record label, and Bauermeister moved to Germany to pursue a doctoral degree in history, releasing a few albums with the group Horace Pinker.

For the Record . . .

Members include Chris Bauermeister , bass; Adam Pfahler , drums; Blake Swarzen-bach , guitar, vocals.

Group formed, 1988; released Unfun on Shredder, 1989; released Bivouac, 1991; released 24-Hour Revenge Therapy on Tupelo/Communion, 1993; toured United States and Europe, including opening for Nirvana on their In Utero tour; signed with major label Geffen, released Dear You, 1995; disbanded, 1996.

Addresses: Record company Blackball Records, web-site:

One of Jawbreaker's shows was captured and released in 1999 on Pfahler's Blackball label. Live 4/30/96 was a "must-have" for fans, according to Rolling Stone online. The album featured three rare tracks: "Shirt," "For Esme," and an alternate version of "Gemini." The group also redeemed themselves by performing powerful live versions of Dear You 's "Acci-dent Prone" and "Save Your Generation." The compilation Etc. was released on Blackball in 2002. Blackball reissued Dear You in February of 2004, adding five previously unreleased tracks to the album and new liner notes written by the band members.

Selected discography

Whack and Blite (EP), Blackball, 1989.

Unfun, Shredder, 1990.

Chesterfield King (EP), Tupelo/Communion, 1992.

Bivouac, Tupelo/Communion, 1992.

24-Hour Revenge Therapy, Tupelo/Communion, 1993.

Dear You, DGC, 1995; reissued, Blackball, 2004.

Live 4/30/96, Blackball, 1999.

Etc., Blackball, 2002.



Punk Planet, February 2003.


Blackball Records, (February 13, 2003).

"Jawbreaker," All Music Guide, (January 3, 2004).

"Jawbreaker Live 4/30/96,", (January 3, 2004).

"Jawbreaker," Trouser Press, (January 3, 2004).

Brenna Sanchez

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jaw·break·er / ˈjôˌbrākər/ • n. 1. inf. a word that is very long or hard to pronounce. 2. a large, hard, spherical candy. 3. a machine with powerful jaws for crushing rock or ore.

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