A dentist helped invent the cotton candy machine.
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Next Fact

A dentist helped invent the cotton candy machine.

When folks learn that one of cotton candy’s creators cleaned teeth for a living, jaws inevitably drop. Born in 1860, dentist William J. Morrison became president of the Tennessee State Dental Association in 1894. But Morrison was something of a polymath and a dabbler, and his varied interests also included writing children’s books and designing scientific processes: He patented methods for both turning cottonseed oil into a lard substitute and purifying Nashville’s public drinking water. In 1897, Morrison and a fellow Nashvillian — confectioner John C. Wharton — collaborated on an “electric candy machine,” which received a patent within two years. Their device melted sugar into a whirling central chamber and then used air to push the sugar through a screen into a metal bowl, where wisps of the treat accumulated.     

The French term for cotton candy translates to "papa’s beard."
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It's a Fact
In France, cotton candy is known as "barbe à papa," while Greeks opt for "old lady's hair." "Fairy floss" has held strong in Finland and Australia, but England prefers "candy floss." In the Netherlands, locals order "suikerspin" — the direct English meaning is "sugar spider."

Morrison and Wharton debuted their snack, “fairy floss,” at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 (better known as the St. Louis World’s Fair). Over the seven-month event, at least 65,000 people purchased a wooden box of the stuff, netting Morrison and Wharton the modern equivalent of more than $500,000. Despite the financial success, Morrison soon returned to dentistry. In the early 1920s, with the original patent expired, another dentist — Josef Lascaux of New Orleans — tried to improve on their rattling, temperamental gadget, but his lone contribution was the name “cotton candy.” Gold Medal Products finally made a more reliable machine by adding a spring-loaded base in 1949, and the Cincinnati-based company remains the top manufacturer of cotton candy machines today.

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Numbers Don’t Lie
Approximate height (in feet) of the tallest piece of cotton candy — a German production in 2013
Cost (in cents) for a serving of fairy floss at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair (general admission was 50 cents)
Rough percentage of cotton candy that is composed of air
Calories in a 1-ounce serving of cotton candy
Cotton candy's natural color is _______.
Cotton candy's natural color is white.
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Think Twice
For more than 50 years, there’s been a desk stocked with candy in the U.S. Senate chamber.

Although actor-turned-politician George Murphy served just a single term in the Senate, he began a toothsome tradition that his Republican successors still maintain. During his fourth year in office, in 1968, the California senator moved to the 80th desk in the Senate chambers: a workspace on the Republican side, in the back row, near the room’s busiest entrance. No food was permitted in the chamber, yet Senator Murphy hid an assortment of candy in his drawers — which he made available to his colleagues. Later holders of the desk have also agreed to keep the “candy desk” stocked. When Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois occupied the digs, he filled its crannies with Chicago-made Tootsie Rolls and Wrigley’s gum. In 2015, his former seat went to Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who stocked the desk with the pride of Hershey, Pennsylvania, including chocolate bars, 3 Musketeers, and Rolos. Since 2023, the desk has been occupied by Senator Todd Young of Indiana, who stows Hoosier-made candy such as Red Hots and Kraft caramels in the desk. To avoid ethical concerns, all the candy in the desk is donated. The treats are available to all senators, regardless of political affiliation.

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