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Bill Harmsen

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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