The world has Ira “Bob” Born to thank for the proliferation of sweet, luminously colored “Peeps” — the chick- and bunny-shaped marshmallow candies that have become a staple at Halloween and Easter events in the United States, as well sparking The Washington Post’s annual diorama competition since 2007.
He died Jan. 29 at 98, the family-owned company said in a statement. The cause was not disclosed.
Mr. Born is best known for mechanizing the way the company, Just Born, produced Peeps candies in 1954, cutting down the laborious process of hand-shaping them using pastry tubes. Using his engineering background, he created machinery that streamlined production runs from 27 hours to six minutes, the company said.
“Bob devoted his life to Just Born and the science and process of candy making,” the company said. His design went on to become the “basis for the current marshmallow depositing systems,” it added.
His success earned him the nickname “Father of Peeps,” and the company now produces 5.5 million Peeps per day, it said.
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He was born Sept. 29, 1924, in New York. In 1944, he received a degree in engineering physics from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Shortly after graduation, he served in the Navy as a radar specialist and went on to study math and physics at the University of Arizona and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mr. Born was accepted to medical school, but while waiting for classes to start he became drawn to the candy manufacturing business, joining the family firm after World War II.
“The candy business was kind of catchy,” his son, Ross Born, told the Lehigh Valley News. “He enjoyed the science, the technology, the processing. He was very much into the equipment.”
The company describes Peeps as “cute, quirky, and delicious,” and credits them as “our most widely known candy brand,” with both the chick and bunny shape available, among other seasonal shapes and flavors. It has also featured as a cereal and on clothing.
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The colorful Peeps are almost 70 years old, with Just Born producing about 2 billion Peeps each year, the company said. The yellow Peeps are the most popular, followed by the pink ones, according to the company. This year, Just Born is celebrating 100 years since its founding, and it continues to champion its motto: “Bringing sweetness to people’s lives.”
It is the 10th-largest candy company in the United States, according to the company’s website, and employs more than 600 people.
Mr. Born became president of Just Born Quality Confections in 1959, a position he held for more than 30 years before retiring. The company was founded in Brooklyn in 1923 by his candy-maker father, Sam, who had emigrated from Russia. The firm later relocated to Bethlehem.
In 1953, the company acquired the Rodda Candy Co. of Lancaster, Pa., known for its jelly bean technology and its smaller line of marshmallow products. But the manufacturing process was not mechanized.
“There was nobody doing that kind of thing,” Ross Born said of his father. “You couldn’t buy a machine like that. So he built it. That was his nature.”
The company also makes other popular candy brands including “Mike and Ike,” “Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews” and “Hot Tamales” the cinnamon-flavored sweets that Born helped invent by reworking Mike and Ike candies.
A submission by Bradley Roan for the 2022 Washington Post Peeps diorama contest. (Video: The Washington Post)
Mr. Born retired to Florida, where he led a literacy program before he suffered a hard fall and endured a difficult recovery, according to the Associated Press.
Survivors include his wife, Patricia; two children, Sara and Ross; five grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren, AP said.
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