The Dentist Who Created Cotton Candy

Cotton candy — the dessert of our childhoods, from state fairs to zoos to baseball games. That fluffy, cloudlike ball of spun sugar always seemed to hit the spot. But what if I told you the sugary treat was invented by a dentist? Something to think about next time you get your cavities filled.

Spun sugar was a popular dessert with upper-class Italians in the 1400s, when they melted down sugar and drizzled it over sheets to create different shapes of sugar. But it was a dentist and a candymaker who created the machine that makes what we now know as cotton candy.

William James Morrison was a dentist from Nashville, Tennessee, who also happened to be a prolific inventor. Among his several inventions were a purification process for public drinking water, a system to convert cottonseed oil into lard and, well, cotton candy. Morrison and local confectioner John C. Wharton created an electric machine that would melt down sugar and force it through a wire screen with flowing air. The result? The most magical, melt-in-your-mouth treat.

The two first began selling the new sugar treat—then called fairy floss, the name still used for cotton candy in Australia—at the 1904 World’s Fair, where it was an instant hit. In just six months, the pair had sold over 68,000 boxes of cotton candy (back then, they sold cotton candy in boxes, not the quintessential paper cones of today) and made what is now worth over $440,000. The cotton candy craze spread all over the country, touching the hearts and stomachs of many.

Even with the rapid success of his new creation, Morrison chose to stick with dentistry and later became the president of the Tennessee State Dental Association. So remind your dentist of the role dentistry played in your cavities next time you’re asked to eat fewer sweets.


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