Cotton candy machine invented in Nashville, TN

Cotton candy as we know it today — a fluffy confection, usually pink, blue, or yellow + spun around a stick — can be traced back to a pair of Nashvillians.

This fairgrounds staple, or rather the machine that makes the sticky, sweet creation, was invented ~125 years ago by local dentist William James Morrison (yes, you read that right) and candymaker John C. Wharton. The inventors had big plans for the machine, but they ultimately sold the patented device to Nashville’s Electric Candy Machine Company in the late 1890s.

Not long after, in 1904, the company took the machine and the cotton candy it made — called “fairy floss” at the time — to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair). During the eight months the fair was open, the company sold 68,655 boxes of cotton candy for 25 cents a pop (~$7.50 each in today’s dollars).

Riding on the success of the World’s Fair, the company sold machines to companies across the US, thus popularizing the treat that can be spotted at fairs and sporting events today.

That’s the short and sweet history, the abridged version you’d share with friends while walking around the Wilson County Fair - Tennessee State Fair this week or next, but there’s more to the story. Here are a few fast facts about cotton candy:

  • The treat can be traced back to 15th century Italy, where chefs made sculptures from spun sugar.
  • As it turns out, Josef Lascaux, another dentist, is credited for originating the name “cotton candy.”
  • The building home to 21c Museum Hotel Nashville has an interesting connection to The Electric Candy Company: Owner Guilford Dudley Sr.’s brother operated a hardware store called Gray & Dudley in the building. If that sounds familiar, the hotel decided to name its onsite restaurant after the business.
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