Stover, Clara Mae Lewis
Stover, Clara Mae Lewis
Russell Stover Candies Inc.
Clara Stover, a farm girl from Iowa, was the founder, vice president, and later president of Russell Stover Candies, the company she and her husband began in the basement of their home. Stover worked to perfect her candy, which she and her husband tirelessly marketed until they had built a million–dollar business that produced millions of pounds of candy and became an American favorite. Nearly eighty years after its beginnings, the company is now the country's largest manufacturer of boxed chocolates, chocolate bars, bagged candy, and S'mores. The company's Whitman's Sampler is a drugstore and grocery store staple and one of the company's biggest moneymakers. The candy maker had sales of $471 million and 5,200 employees in 2001.
Stover was born Clara Mae Lewis on September 25, 1893 in Johnson county, Iowa, to Mary Ann and Lorenzo Evan Lewis, a farmer. She married Russell Stover in 1911 and the couple had a daughter, Gloria Virginia, who married Reginald Ingram–Eiser. Stover was the author of a book about her husband, The Life of Russell Stover, published in 1958, and she also composed the songs "My Pretty Little Kitty from Kansas City" and "I'll Never Love Again." Her hobbies included swimming and motoring. Mrs. Stover was a Republican and was affiliated with the Linwood Presbyterian Church in Kansas City. Stover served on the board of the Art Institute, the Heart Association, and the Starlite Theatre Association, all in Kansas City, Missouri. She was a member of the Welsh Society, the Women's Chamber of Commerce of Kansas City, Sigma Iota, Chi Omega, and the Soroptimist Club. Stover made contributions to Saint Luke's Research Hospital and Baptist Memorial Hospitals, in Kansas City, and the Shawnee Mission Hospital. She was a trustee of Research Hospital in 1956. She donated the Russell Stover Memorial Auditorium to what is now the University of Missouri's Conservatory of Music in 1955. After 1931 the couple lived in Kansas City, Missouri and also had a house in Miami Beach, Florida, where Russell Stover died in 1954. Mrs. Stover died over twenty years later in 1975 at the age of 93.
Stover's grandparents, Evan and Rachel Lewis, emigrated from Wales and moved to Aurora, Illinois, before settling in Oxford, Iowa. Clara describes what it was like growing up on a turn–of–the century farm in her book, The Life of Russell Stover: "Social competition among families was something unknown to us. We were as 'well off' as anybody, we thought. If someone sported a buggy with a fringe on top, we certainly did not envy him and therefore felt no inner drive to keep up with the Browns. We felt we were a successful farm family with lots of food and warm clothing." The second oldest, Clara had three sisters, Annbert Maud, Cettie Glee, and Hannah Mabel and one brother, LeRoy Evan. The family lived a spare existence, raising hogs and cattle and buying staples such as groceries and clothing with the sale of the livestock.
Stover was educated in the local schools of rural Johnson County. She was able to borrow $300 from a bachelor neighbor to go to college, a huge sum in those days, which she later paid back with interest. She attended the University of Iowa where she studied speech and, later, music. While at the university, Stover taught school near Homestead, Iowa. She also met her future husband while at college, a chemistry major who attended the university for a year after graduating from Iowa City Academy. The studious Stover was also tall, dark, handsome, and popular with the ladies. After graduation, she taught piano to local children in Oxford, Iowa, and then decided to return to Iowa City for further piano study. There, she met up with Stover again. She recalled the meeting in her book: "And surely destiny was at work—our first real meeting in a sweet shop! It wasn't the least prophetic then. We both joshed each other about our weakness for candy and ice cream, unaware that it was to become an abiding habit all through the years, for no matter where we were, Russell passed an ice cream parlor or candy store with only the greatest difficulty." Clara married Russell Stover on June 17, 1911, in Chicago, Illinois.
For a short time, Russell Stover worked as a salesman for the American Tobacco Company. In 1911 the couple moved to Hume, Canada, in the province of Saskatchewan. Russell Stover ran a 580–acre farm there until 1912. Mr. Stover then got a job as a candy salesman, and they relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. To help with the family's expenses, Mrs. Stover took various odd jobs: selling magazines door to door, working in a drugstore, and operating a sewing machine in a factory. Later in 1912 the candy company that Mr. Stover worked for declined to reimburse the salesman for some inedible candy, so the Stovers decided to make their own candy and learn the business of selling it.
Chronology: Clara Mae Lewis Stover
1911: Married Russell Stover.
1912: Began making candy in her kitchen and selling it in Canada.
1923: Founded Mrs. Stover's Bungalow Candies with her husband.
1925: Opened the company's first factory in Denver.
1931: Moved their headquarters to Kansas City, Missouri.
1943: Company renamed Russell Stover Candies.
1954: Became president of Russell Stover Candies.
1960: Sold company.
The Stovers came up with their own recipes for the candy, which they produced with some used equipment they set up in a little storeroom. They sold the candy locally. It became very popular, and their little business flourished. Due to World War I, however, Canada instated wartime rationing in 1916, which hindered the Stovers' candy business. The couple returned home to Iowa. They eventually moved to Chicago, where Mr. Stover found a position as a salesman for the A.G. Morris for a year. After that, he sold candy for the Bunte Candy Co., where he stayed for three years. Mrs. Stover found work as a salesperson at the department store, Carson Pirie's. In 1919, in the kitchen of their Chicago apartment, Mrs. Stover once again began making the candy she and her husband had developed in Canada. She hired an assistant who dipped the candies. She sold the all–chocolate sweets under the name of Stover's Candy. Mr. Stover used his connections in the industry to sell the candies to sixteen local stores. Her husband then took a job as superintendent of the Irwin Candy Co. in Des Moines, Iowa and when the couple relocated there in 1920, Mrs. Stover left the candy business she had established in Chicago behind.
While at Irwin, Mr. Stover helped bring the company out of bankruptcy, but the business was acquired by the Graham Ice Cream Co. of Omaha, Nebraska in late 1920. Mr. Stover remained in his superintendent position with Graham. In 1921 Mr. Stover perfected and promoted what would become an American icon: a frozen treat that he christened the Eskimo Pie. The new confection sold rapidly throughout the following year but, just as quickly, dried up as interest in the new–fangled dessert suddenly waned. The Stovers took their $25,000 from the Eskimo Pie sales and decided to start their own business. In 1923 the Stovers moved once again, this time to Denver, Colorado, where they began their own company called Mrs. Stover's Bungalow Candies. Mrs. Stover became vice president of the company in 1925, a position that she occupied for eighteen years until 1943.
The couple made the candy and ran the business out of the basement of their Denver home. Mrs. Stover trained the company's first employee in the art of producing their candies. Mr. Stover rented two retail stores to sell their confections. In less than a year, the company grew to five stores in Denver, produced 20,000 pounds of candy and had seven employees. In 1925, the Stovers opened a factory in Denver, where Mrs. Stover managed the female employees. In 1931 the couple moved their burgeoning business to Kansas City, Missouri. Some tough times followed with the depression and a sugar shortage during World War II, but the company managed to survive these hurdles. They were doing well enough to open a second factory in Kansas City, Missouri, and a third in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1942.
Mrs. Stover traveled all over the country, opening and decorating stores that numbered forty by 1943. The company also had offices in Denver, Kansas City, and Lincoln, along with their factories there. The year 1943 also saw a reorganization of the company, which was renamed Russell Stover Candies. That year, the company allowed thirty–five of its employees with the longest service records to become a part of the business. The company grew from seven employees to 900 by 1954 and increased production to 11 million pounds of candy, which was sold in the company's own 40 stores as well as 2000 other department stores and drugstores throughout the United States. In 2001 the company's website stated, "Mr. and Mrs. Stover established principles that were successful then and are still carefully followed today. The three principles of quality, service and value allow Russell Stover to remain 'Only the Finest.'"
Mrs. Stover took over as the company's president after her husband's death at age sixty–six in 1954. Under Mrs. Stover, the business continued its phenomenal growth and production doubled to 22 million pounds by the time the business was sold in 1960 by Louis Ward. Mrs. Stover still enjoyed making candy throughout her retirement and was active in several civic organizations until her death on January 9, 1975.
Social and Economic Impact
Phil A. Koury said in the introduction of the book, The Life of Russell Stover, "Though they moved in corporate pastures, the Russell Stovers were in no wise [sic] corporate people in that slim and detached and specific legal sense of the word. The truth is, they possessed a comfortable and rooted love of what corporations are really made of, namely, humans. It is a good love and has served the Stovers well."
Clara Stover was an innovator in the field of candy making and certainly among the earliest women to serve as vice president and later president of a large, national manufacturer. Not afraid of hard work, Stover took a variety of jobs throughout her life—in her college years and later to help support her husband who was trying to establish himself in the candy business. Once he had established himself, the self–starting Stover began making her own recipes and perfecting them in her own home, and she helped her husband sell and market the finished product. Stover traveled extensively throughout the country once her company had been established, in order to personally oversee and direct the atmosphere and other details at the company's retail stores, which grew to forty in her tenure. While Stover served as the company's president from 1955 until 1960, the company's productivity doubled, cranking out 11 million pounds of candy per year.
Stover founded and helped build a company that has lasted for nearly eighty years as the leader in producing boxed candy. Russell Stover's is now an international company, with sales in Canada and Puerto Rico. The candy Stover began can now be found in more than 40,000 drugstores, gift stores, department stores, and related outlets in all fifty states in the United States. The boxed candy industry that Stover helped build is now a $2 billion dollar market and part of a larger $10 billion market for chocolate. Every time one takes a bite of a Russell Stover–made candy, he or she will be tasting almost exactly what Mrs. Stover created back in her Denver kitchen, as the company maintains that each of her recipes remains basically unchanged.
Sources of Information
"Company History." Russell Stover Candies Inc., 2001. Available at http://www.russellstover.com.
The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. James T. White & Company, 1961.
"Russell Stover Candies Inc." Hoover's, 2001. Available at http://www.hoovers.com.
Stover, Clara, and Phil A. Koury. The Life of Russell Stover: An American Success Story. Random House, 1958.
"Russell Stover and the Chocolate Wars." The Business Journal, 28 March 1997.
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