President Ronald Reagan is known for many things: his smart fiscal policy, his determination and optimism about the American Dream—and his great love for jelly beans. The 40th president passed around the sweet, gummy candy at every meeting, gifting it to foreign ambassadors and dignitaries and sharing it with his staff. Less well known, however, is the story behind Reagan’s favorite sweet, and the candy company he loved.
The inspiration for President Reagan’s habit began just before he ran for governor of California in 1966. The future president was trying to quit smoking, and he took up eating jelly beans as a substitute. His attempt at giving up pipe smoking was successful, and jelly beans quickly became synonymous with the 40th president. Later, while in the White House, President Reagan kept a standing order for 720 bags of jelly beans from his favorite company, Jelly Belly. At his inauguration in 1981, President Reagan ordered three and a half tons of patriotic red, white, and blue beans to commemorate the event. Jelly Belly even created a special new blue flavor—blueberry—to round out the patriotic trio of Very Cherry and Coconut. Forty years later, blueberry remains among the most popular types of beans.
Throughout his political career, President Reagan continued to serve his beloved jelly beans at cabinet meetings, social events, and even important meetings with dignitaries from around the world. Photographs exist of the President meeting with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher over a jar of American jelly beans. President Reagan joked that you could tell a lot about a person from how they ate their jelly beans, so he always kept a jar handy.
The jelly bean President Reagan preferred, however, was a legend itself. When he first began eating jelly beans, they were larger confections than the modern bean, with flavoring in the outside shell. The inside of the beans were an unflavored sugary filling. At a 1966 campaign event, however, the future president was told about a new, more flavorful type of jelly bean. The Jelly Belly Company, then known as Goerlitz Candy, was selling a small jelly bean that was flavored inside and out. President Reagan tried a few and was instantly hooked. Jelly Belly began shipping regular orders to then-Governor Reagan’s office, a tradition that would continue throughout the President’s political career. He allowed the company to create candy jars with the presidential seal on them, and handed out the jelly bean jars to officials. President Reagan is credited for massively expanding the popularity of his favorite jelly bean brand—when word got out that Jelly Belly was the president’s preferred candy, orders skyrocketed, and the small company found itself 77 weeks behind on orders. Even today, the company keeps President Reagan memorabilia around their factory, including portraits of the fortieth president and the First Lady done in jelly beans.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Museum Store offers multiple jelly bean jars designed to celebrate the President’s favorite candy. Choose from specialty Jelly Belly jars, a unique Reagan Library crystal jar, or even a jelly bean box. You’ll be able to enjoy a few licorice jellybeans (The President’s favorite flavor) while remembering the man who made the beans famous.