Katharine Beecher: ‘Legacies,’ Part I
Katharine Beecher started a small candy company in the 1930s. Defense contracts in World War II helped her company, as it did many York County businesses. Katharine Beecher’s son, Henry Beecher, kept the business in the family for 22 years after his mother’s death in 1952. In 1974, he sold the factory’s assets to Pennsylvania Dutch Candies. Today, that company, now in Cumberland County, carries the Beecher name on some product lines. Background posts: “Little Johnny” called for Allies in World War II and Edith Barber: ‘She wanted to save humanity’.
A small road called Butter Mint Lane in Manchester explains the product made in the factory on that road.
Manchester was where Katharine Beecher Candies operated for decades before owner Pennsylvania Dutch Co. arranged for its move to Camp Hill in 1999.
Katherine Beecher, who started the business in her kitchen in 1930, became one of the most visible female industrialists in York County in the middle years of the 20th century… .
Beecher was one of 50 women profiled in “Legacies: Remembrances of York County Women” published in 1984.
The York Branch, American Association of University Women sponsored production of the booklet and ensured that materials used to research the women was placed on file at the York County Heritage Trust Library. The booklet is available at York County libraries.
The York Daily Record/Sunday News has updated and re-published the material from “Legacies” in various publications.
More information about Beecher, adapted from “Legacies” follows, in this first of four sample profiles on achieving York County women:
During the Great Depression, many women tried to help their families by making some money, but few were as successful as Katharine Beecher. Katharine Beck Jacoby Beecher grew up in York and married Henry W. Beecher in 1913.
The Beechers lived in Indiana for about a year and then moved to Greensboro, N.C. Mrs. Beecher made many friends and became active in her church. She was an excellent cook and housekeeper and learned to make buttermints, a regional candy, while she lived in Greensboro.
In 1930, the Beechers moved back to York County. There was a summer kitchen behind their Manchester house, and in that kitchen, Katharine Beecher began making butter mints for her friends and neighbors.
The mints were popular among York countians, who had never tasted anything like them, and the demand for the candy grew.
Henry Beecher quit his job to help his wife in the growing candy business. He sold the buttermints to area customers. A specialty foods salesman tasted the candies while he was staying at the Harrisburg Hotel and was so impressed by their quality and uniqueness, that he persuaded the Beechers to produce them for distribution in the Midwest.
World War II came along, and the company had a problem — obtaining sugar to make their product. The Beechers began to sell to military sources in order to get government certificates to take to their suppliers so they could buy more sugar.
By 1949, the small business had grown into a $300,000-a-year operation, and the Katharine Beecher Co. moved into a modern new factory in Manchester.
“She was a very dynamic individual who had a tremendously captivating personality, and people just loved to meet her and to be with her and to talk with her,” said her oldest son, Henry Beecher.
“She was right on top of everything… . She was at home among the salesmen. She could meet with them and discuss the business and the problems with customers, and she always came up with an answer. She always had a good answer, too, and they respected her answers.”