First cotton candy / candy floss
William Morrison, John C Wharton
/ first
United States (Nashville)

Ironically, cotton candy or candy floss — that airy confection of machine-spun sugar — was invented in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, in 1897 by a dentist. William Morrison partnered with confectioner John C Wharton (both USA) to devise an “electric candy machine,” in which sugar crystals were spun through a metal bowl with tiny holes. They applied for the patent on 23 December 1897 and it was granted on 31 January 1899. The partners introduced their invention as “fairy floss” at the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair, where it was sold for $0.25 a box. The crowds went wild for it (around 68,000 boxes were sold), and the Electric Candy Company was incorporated soon after to perfect the treat before selling it to the wider public.

As early as the 16th century, court confectioners had spun sugar into threads to decorate lavish desserts and make extravagant ornaments for the table. In her cookbook The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769), Elizabeth Raffald includes a recipe for a “silver web” and one for a “gold web” made from spun sugar. The great French chef Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833) was particularly adept at working with spun sugar and shared his innovative techniques in his influential manuals.

Oddly enough, a second dentist got in on the spun-sugar act. In 1921, New Orleanian Josef Lascaux invented a machine for making spun sugar that he called “cotton candy.” Although he never became the entrepreneur that Morrison had been, his new moniker for the treat endured in the USA (interestingly, in Australia the confection is still widely called “fairy floss”). In other countries, it's acquired alternative colloquial names, such as "old lady's hair" in Greece!

In 1949, Gold Medal Products Co. began manufacturing a cotton-candy machine with a better-designed base; this basic model, perfected over the years, is still being used today.