How Tootsie Rolls Saved The Day During The Korean War

Invented in Brooklyn by Austrian immigrant Leo Hirschfield (via Penn State University), the Tootsie Roll takes its name from Hirschfield's daughter, Clara, who was nicknamed Tootsie. That technically means at the center of the Tootsie Roll's origin story is a "Tootsie" pop. Rolled out in 1905, the candy killed two birds with one stone — neither of which was Mr. Owl, thankfully. Smithsonian Magazine explains that Tootsie Rolls tasted like chocolate but had a "peculiar mellow consistency" that prevented them from melting like chocolate in the summer heat. That was a huge boon in an era before air conditioning and home refrigerators. Moreover, they were individually wrapped.

Though Tootsie Rolls only cost a penny in their early days, they proved priceless in times of crisis and conflict. They became an affordable source of joy during the Great Depression, and in WWII, they served as "energy bars" for troops because they remained fresh for long stretches. But Tootsie Rolls truly outdid themselves during the Korean War, when they came to the rescue of Marines in desperate circumstances.

How the Tootsie Roll became life savers during the Korean War

Fought from 1950 to 1953, the Korean War was chock-full of nutty moments that seem ripped from the scenes of a fever dream. It had a mass UFO sighting, a beer-drinking horse who became a U.S. sergeant, and absurd ceasefire negotiations that got sidetracked by an over-the-top competition to fly the biggest flag. But the sweetest dream-like sequence in the conflict occurred during an otherwise bitter battle at the Chosin mountain reservoir.

The drama played out in December 1950, per History, when Marines ran into an ambush and suffered heavy losses as they battled the enemy and elements. In temperatures reaching 40 degrees below zero, their bullet wounds froze and their "feet froze into blocks of ice inside boots." Faced with a shortage of ammunition, the Marines placed an emergency request for mortar ammo, which had been assigned the code name "Tootsie Rolls," according to Ripley's Believe It or Not!

In a lucky misunderstanding, Tootsie Roll candies were airdropped instead of ammo. Apparently, their peculiar mellow consistency wasn't just great for retaining their shape in the summer. When warmed, they formed a sort of "putty" that could patch bullet holes in hoses, vehicles, and other vital equipment. So the troops chewed Tootsie Rolls to make putty and chewed them as food. Many of the surviving Marines, known as the "Chosin Few," believed those candies played a key role in their survival.