10 Sweet and Colorful Facts About Mike and Ike
By Jeff Wells
Through wars, presidential administrations, and even a manufactured breakup, the famous candy duo has seen it all in 75 years together. Here are a few facts about the early days, their public split, and whether or not Mike and Ike were real people.
1. THEY DEBUTED IN 1940.
Sam Born, a Russian immigrant who made a fortune by inventing a machine that inserted sticks into lollipops, started the Just Born candy company in 1923. The name was meant to imply freshness, and the original Just Born logo was a slightly creepy picture of a baby lying on a candy scale. In its early years, the company relied mainly on acquisitions for revenue. Then in 1940, eager to harness the growing demand for fruity, gummy candies, Just Born came out with its first major brand—Mike and Ike.
2. MIKE AND IKE DON’T EXIST.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Just like Aunt Jemima and Betty Crocker, Mike and Ike are fictional food characters. As for where the names originated, nobody knows—not even the company (or so they claim). Popular theories include a reference to Dwight Eisenhower, to a popular vaudeville act, and to a 1937 song titled “Mike and Ike (The Twins).” In response to a question on its website about the names’ origin, Just Born cheekily claims that Mike and Ike are “the founders of Mike and Ike candy brand.”
3. JELLYBEANS AND MARSHMALLOWS HELPED THE COMPANY GROW.
In 1953, Just Born purchased the Rodda Candy Company, which specialized in manufacturing marshmallows and jellybeans. Rodda’s jellybean expertise helped Just Born expand Mike and Ike into new fruit flavors and additional varieties like cotton candy. The marshmallow Easter Peeps that Rodda workers painstakingly made by hand, meanwhile, were automated by Sam Born’s son, Bob, and became a mainstream hit.
4. THE FIRST FLAVOR ADDITIONS INCLUDED ROOT-T-TOOT AND JACK AND JILL.
theimpulsivebuy, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Mike and Ike’s original fruit mix, which contained cherry, orange, lemon and lime candies, carried the brand through its early years. Starting in the ‘60s, the company began introducing new flavors like Root-T-Toot, Jack and Jill and Jolly Joe’s. The first was a root beer flavored candy that featured a smiling steamboat on the package. The company discontinued it in the '70s, and then brought it back as a limited anniversary edition in the late '90s. Apparently that went over well, since a few years later Just Born released a Root Beer Float flavor. Earlier this year, the company brought Root Beer Float back once more, along with the popular Cotton Candy flavor. In all, there have been close to 40 different flavors of Mike and Ike.
5. THE FIRST MIKE AND IKE WERE A PAIR OF DANDIES.
For years, Just Born resisted depicting Mike and Ike in physical form. Then in the '60s, the company updated its Original Fruit packaging to show two mustachioed gents. One wore a top hat and resembled a redheaded Willy Wonka, while the other was a stouter, Dr. Watson-esque figure donning a green bowler. Was this a nod to the brand’s vaudeville origins? Perhaps. The characters were certainly a far cry from the two dudes representing Mike and Ike these days.
6. THEY’RE BIG AT THE MOVIES.
Darwin Bell, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Mike and Ike is the best-selling non-chocolate candy at movie theaters, and has been for years. Most movie theaters carry the 5-ounce theater box, but super fans can also upgrade to the 1-pound and 1.5-pound boxes.
7. THEY WENT THROUGH A VERY PUBLIC SPLIT.
Three years ago, the fictional characters announced (via a very pricey media campaign) that they were going their separate ways. Mike, the musician, and Ike, the artist, just couldn’t see eye to eye on the direction the company was going, and decided to pursue separate interests. Or something. The campaign was a way for the brand to enter the national conversation, and to appeal to the much sought-after teen demographic. It unfolded on product packaging, with one or the other name scribbled out, and across national ads, the company’s Facebook page and fake Tumblr accounts given to both characters. "Instead of all this hassle, now I’m just gonna jam,” Mike wrote. “Been laying down heat with my friend Blaze.” Kids these days.
8. THE CAMPAIGN BOOSTED SALES.
Just Born spent $15 million on its breakup campaign in 2012. Just for perspective, the previous year the company only spent $125,000 on advertising. So a lot was riding on the faltering bromance—and according to most reports, it succeeded. Sales of Mike and Ike saw their biggest increase in more than a decade, the brand’s Facebook page tripled its number of fans, and Barack Obama (among others) became a follower of the company’s branded Twitter account.
9. THEIR SPLIT ANGERED THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT.
Although Just Born never specifically said Mike and Ike were gay, that’s the way some interpreted the duo after announcing their split. One of the most vocal critics was Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. In a radio address, he claimed the company had a political agenda and was “sexualizing candy.” And despite the fact Mike and Ike were never joined in matrimony at any point in their 70-year relationship, Perkins also claimed the candy duo was “chipping away at the value of marriage.”
10. THEY EVENTUALLY GOT BACK TOGETHER.
The manufactured breakup eventually came full circle, and Mike and Ike repaired their friendship/romance/whatever. The company celebrated the reunion with sleek new packaging and a new flavor called Strawberry Reunion. There was also a very dramatic movie trailer that aired on national TV.