12 Boardman Street (1890-1999)
The Squirrel brand dates back to 1890 when it started as the Austin T. Merrill Company in Roxbury. Incorporated in 1899 as the newly named Squirrel Brands Salted Nut Company, the company’s ownership changed and two long-time employees, Perley G. Gerrish and Fred S. Green, began to run the business. As the company grew, it moved from its Boston location to Cambridge in 1903 and then to this building in 1915.
The company was here in Cambridge from 1915 to 1999. Originally, Perley Gerrish would sell his mixed nut varieties from store to store throughout the area by means of horse and wagon. Here, Squirrel Brand produced nuts that were carried by Admiral Richard Byrd, who lead the first expedition to reach the South Pole by air. The nuts were also shipped all over the world during WW2.
From salting to roasting peanuts to chewy taffies and nougats, Squirrel Nut Company developed a loyal customer base. Some of their brands over the years have included Butter Chews, Nut Chews and Nut Yippees. Their popular flagship product was the “Squirrel Nut Zipper,” a vanilla, caramel, and nut taffy that supposedly was named after an illegal drink during Prohibition. The candy was always regionally popular, but it made more of a national comeback during the 1990s when a retro swing band named themselves the Squirrel Nut Zippers and gave out the candy at their performances.
When Hollis Gerrish, the son of the founder, died in1997, he left instructions for the company to be sold. In 1999, Squirrel Brand Company was purchased by Southern Style Nuts and the operation was moved to Texas. Its leaving marked the departure of the city’s last major independent candy manufacturer.
In 2004, NECCO picked up the license from Southern Nut Company to manufacture squirrel candy brands. Squirrel Nut Zippers and Caramel Chews returned home to Massachusetts, and is just one of NECCOs more recent acquisitions that has helped turned them into an anomaly of the candy industry, and a sort of retro outfitter of sweets.