Bill Harmsen was an American businessman,
candy maker, and co-founder, with his wife
Dorothy, of the Jolly Rancher Candy Company.
When Bill and Dorothy Harmsen failed to find
great success farming their land, the young
couple established an ice cream shop. Before
long, they added homemade chocolates, jelly
beans, fruit chews, and lollipops. But is was
their familiar rectangular hard candy, the
Jolly Rancher, that brought them fame in the
candy world. Fire Stix was another of their
more popular candy products. In the early
days, Bill Harmsen was frequently out on
the road marketing their candy, so it often
fell to Dorothy to manage Jolly Rancher
operations in Colorado. The company he
founded in 1949, was sold to Beatrice Foods
in 1967, though Harmsen stayed on as president
until 1977. The Hershey Company, purchased
Jolly Rancher in 1996. Over time, the
fruit-flavored Jolly Rancher candies became
a favorite around the world.
He was also a generous philanthropist who donated
much of the land that became Golden Gate Canyon
State Park in Colorado. Harmsen and his wife were
also avid Western art collectors. They had collected
thousands of prestigious pieces by the time they
donated about 3,000 items, including 800 paintings,
to the Denver Art Museum in 2001. The collection,
which they amassed over four decades, included
major works by Georgia O'Keeffe, Frederic Remington,
N.C. Wyeth, Robert Henri and George Catlin, and
instantly made the museum's inventory of Western
art one of the most impressive in the country.
Dorothy Harmsen died in Denver of a heart attack,
August 29th, 2006, at the age of 91.
Biographical fast facts
Date and place of birth: June 20, 1912,
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A.
Date, place and cause of death: April 10, 2002,
Wheat Ridge, Colorado, U.S.A. (Prostate cancer)
Sons: William Harmsen, Jr., Robert Harmsen and Michael Harmsen
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