Ira “Bob” Born — also known as the “Father of Peeps” marshmallow candies — has died, according to Lehigh Valley News. He was 98.
Born was the former president of Just Born Quality Confections, the 100-year-old family-owned candy company.
Born was born on Sept. 29, 1924, in New York City. His father, Sam Born, was a Russian Jewish immigrant who founded Just Born, Inc. in 1923. The family moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the candy company is still based.
He graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in engineering physics before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a radar specialist and lieutenant on a destroyer in the Pacific.
The Navy later sent Born to the University of Arizona and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for graduate studies in math and physics.
He was accepted to medical school and went to work at the family company while he was waiting for classes to begin — but he fell in love with the business and decided to forgo medical school.
“The candy business was kind of catchy … it was interesting to him,” his son Ross Born, who is the current CEO of Just Born. “He enjoyed the science, the technology, the processing, he was very much into the equipment.”
Born earned the title of “Father of Peeps” for mechanizing the process to make the beloved candy chicks.
In 1953, Just Born acquired Rodda Candy Company, which was focused on making jelly beans but had a side product of marshmallow candies made by hand out of a pastry bag.
Born saw the potential in this product and came up with a way to expedite the process of making them — which originally took 26 hours to make.
He and an engineer designed and built a machine that could make the shaped marshmallows in under six minutes.
“There was nobody doing that kind of thing. You couldn’t buy a machine like that. So he built it,” Ross explained.
Born also created the recipe for Hot Tamales candies when he was trying to figure out how to optimize misshapen products in the candy-making process.
Ross said that his father would easily come up with new ideas because he thought of mistakes as a lesson rather than something to avoid.
“That was his nature. He didn’t say, ‘No, we can’t do something.’ He said ‘Well, we’ll figure it out,’” Ross said.
But Born had more talents than just candy.
He was a member of the Bethlehem Bach Choir, took classical guitar lessons, did woodworking, played chess and had a passion for photography, according to his son.
Born made such an impact on his community that in 2019, the city of Bethlehem declared Feb. 15 as “Bob Born Day.”
He spent almost 40 years at Just Born before retiring and living in Florida, where he was chairman of a literacy program in an underserved community.
Born remained active until a few months prior to his death when he suffered from a fall and never fully “bounced back,” according to Ross.
Ross said most of all, his father will be remembered as a “real mensch” — Yiddish for a person of integrity, honor and dignity.
“He was a kind person, he was generous with his talents, sharing his abilities. He was very fair-minded: he wanted to embrace differences rather than just tolerate them,” Ross said.
Born is survived by his widow, Patricia, children Sara and Ross — along with their spouses Bob and Wendy, grandchildren Melissa, Sheryl, Aaron, Lisa and Amy, and 12 great-grandchildren.
His family asks that contributions be made to the American Technion Society, Israel Guide Dog Center, or any literacy program.