The next time you order a bright, fluffy, sticky mouthful of cotton candy, remember this strange fact: it was invented by a dentist. In 1897, William J. Morrison, the President of the Tennessee Dental Association, collaborated with candy maker John C. Wharton to invent the cotton candy machine. Carnivals, circuses and state fairs would never be the same.
Morrison and Wharton debuted their treat at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. At the time, they called it Fairy Floss (yes, floss!), selling it for $0.25 per box, or about $6 in 2015. Despite the steep price, people loved it, and the duo earned over $17,000 during the fair, which is over $400,000 in 2015. Not bad!
This wasn’t Morrison’s first foray into entrepreneurship and invention. While in Nashville, he created processes to make lard from cotton seed oil, and filed patents to clean the city’s drinking water.
Spun sugar, or cotton candy, existed for hundreds of years before Morrison’s machine. In the 1400s, Italian chefs would heat and spin sugar with their forks, making very fine strands that were used to decorate certain dishes. So while people can thank Dr. Morrison for bringing a tasty treat to the masses, dentists around the world might not be so grateful.