BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania — Ira “Bob” Born, a candy company executive known as the “Father of Peeps” for mechanizing the process to make marshmallow chicks, has died. He was 98.
Just Born Quality Confections, the 100-year-old family-owned company Born led for much of his life, said Monday that he had died peacefully on Sunday.
Born began his life in New York City on Sept. 29, 1924. His father, Sam Born, was a Russian immigrant who started Just Born shortly before his son's birth. The family later moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where Just Born is still based.
Bob Born graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in engineering physics. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as a radar specialist and a lieutenant on a destroyer in the Pacific. Later, the Navy sent him to the University of Arizona and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for graduate work in math and physics.
Born applied to medical school and was accepted, but while he was waiting for his classes to begin, he went to work at Just Born. He fell in love with the candy business and decided to stay.
“The candy business was kind of catchy … it was interesting to him,” Ross Born, Bob Born’s son, told the Lehigh Valley News. “He enjoyed the science, the technology, the processing. He was very much into the equipment.”
In 1953, Just Born acquired Rodda Candy Co., a jelly bean maker that had a side business producing shaped marshmallow candies by hand. At the time, it took about 27 hours to make the marshmallows.
Bob Born saw the candies’ potential, so he and an engineer at the company designed and built a machine to make them in less than six minutes. The company's current machines, which are still based on Bob Born's design, now pump out 5.5 million Peeps per day.
Seventy years later, Peeps remain Just Born’s most recognizable candy brand, the company says. Just Born makes around 2 billion Peeps each year, or enough to circle the globe two-and-a-half times. It sells the most at Easter, but also has versions sold for Halloween, Valentine's Day and other holidays.
Bob Born also came up with the recipe for another popular Just Born candy, Hot Tamales. Just Born also makes Mike and Ike fruit chews and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews.
Bob Born became Just Born's president in 1959 and held the role for more than 30 years. He last visited the Just Born factory on Feb. 15, 2019, when the city of Bethlehem proclaimed the first day of the Easter season as “Bob Born Day.”
He spent most of his retirement in Florida, where he led a literacy program and enjoyed hobbies including photography. He was active until a few months before he died, when he had a difficult recovery after a hard fall.
“Bob will be remembered as a tireless and passionate advocate for the candy industry and a wonderful supporter of our community," said David Shaffer, co-CEO and chairman of Just Born, in a statement released by the company.
He is survived by his widow, Patricia; children Sara and Ross; five grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. His funeral will be private.