Bob Born, ‘Father of Peeps’ Marshmallow Candy, Dies at 98

Ira “Bob” Born, a confectionery company executive known as the “Father of the Peeps” for mechanizing the process of making marshmallow chicks, has died. He was 98 years old.

Just Born Quality Confections, the century-old family business that Born ran for much of his life, said on Monday he passed away peacefully on Sunday.

Born began life in New York on September 29, 1924. His father, Sam Born, was a Russian immigrant who started 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 United States Navy and served as a radar specialist and lieutenant on a destroyer in the Pacific. Later, the Navy sent him to the University of Arizona and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for graduate studies 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 pretty catchy…it was interesting to him,” Ross Born, Bob Born’s son, told the Lehigh Valley News. “He loved science, technology, treatment. He was very attached to the equipment.

In 1953, Just Born acquired Rodda Candy Co., a jellybean maker that had a side business producing marshmallow-shaped candies by hand. Back then, it took about 27 hours to make the marshmallows.

Bob Born saw the potential in the candies, so he and a company engineer designed and built a machine to make them in under six minutes. The company’s current machines, which are still based on Bob Born’s design, now produce 5.5 million Peeps per day.

Seventy years later, Peeps remains Just Born’s most recognizable candy brand, according to the company. Just Born generates around 2 billion Peeps every year, enough to circle the world two and a half times. It sells the most at Easter, but also has 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 Peanut Chews.

Bob Born became president of Just Born in 1959 and held that position for over 30 years. He last visited the Just Born factory on February 15, 2019, when the city of Bethlehem proclaimed the first day of the Easter season “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 had a difficult recovery after a hard fall.

“Bob will be remembered as a tireless and passionate advocate for the candy industry and a wonderful supporter of our community,” said David Shaffer, co-CEO and president of Just Born, in a statement released by the company.

He is survived by his widow, Patricia; children Sara and Ross; five grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. His funeral will be private.


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