The Debunker: Who Was The "Baby Ruth" Candy Bar Named After?

by Ken Jennings

To true American sports fans, October means only one thing: Weeks 5-8 of the NFL season baseball’s mythic World Series! Thanks to its century-plus of bizarre rules and colorful characters, the history of major league baseball is plagued with more myth and misinformation than any other sport. (For example: Abner Doubleday, despite what you’ve heard, had nothing to do with its invention.) Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings is from Seattle, where the baseball season never extends into October, so he has plenty of time this month to take a swing at four popular misconceptions about four of the league’s most storied ballplayers.

The Debunker: The “Baby Ruth” Candy Bar Was Named After President Cleveland's Daughter Ruth.

The Baby Ruth is a peanut/caramel/nougat chocolate bar beloved by American heroes from Hellboy to, uh, Sloth from Goonies. Since 1921, when the Curtiss Candy Company retooled its flagship Kandy Kake bar into the modern Baby Ruth, the company has straight-facedly denied that the name had anything to do with New York Yankees slugger George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Instead they claim (and trivia fans have long parroted) that the confection is actually named for Ruth Cleveland, the daughter of president Grover Cleveland.

As the perspicacious myth-debunkers at Snopes.com have pointed out, this was clearly a smokescreen, because the timeline is all wrong. Curtiss claimed that Ruth Cleveland visited their plant as a little girl, inspiring the candy bar, while Babe Ruth wouldn’t become a star until several years after the candy bar was already on store shelves. In fact, Ruth Cleveland had died of typhoid in 1904, twelve years before Curtiss was founded and seventeen years before the Baby Ruth’s debut! And in 1920 and 1921, when the candy bar debuted, Babe Ruth was having the best years of his career. In 1920, he demolished his own single-season record by hitting 54 homers—more than almost any other team in baseball—and set a slugging average record that lasted eighty years. Despite the Curtiss Candy Company’s wild claims to the contrary, he was one of the most famous men in America.

So who do you think the candy bar was named for: the long-deceased child of a past U.S. president, or one of the day’s most iconic pop-culture figures? What obviously happened was this: Curtiss wanted to capitalize on the Babe’s popularity without getting sued. The “Baby Ruth” Cleveland story allowed them to do this. As time went on, however, the charade got weaker and weaker. In 1935, Curtiss placed a big “Baby Ruth” sign on a roof opposite Wrigley Field, where Ruth’s famous “called shot” home run in the 1932 World Series had landed. And in 1995, Babe Ruth himself (courtesy of his licensing-friendly estate) appeared in Baby Ruth advertising for the first time. Ruth Cleveland’s descendants, meanwhile, sit at their desks in a dusty office, waiting. The phone never rings.

Quick Quiz:

Who played Babe Ruth in The Pride of the Yankees, Gary Cooper’s famed Lou Gehrig biopic?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.