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'Father of Peeps' Bob Born dies at age 98

Ross Born
Ira "Bob" Born, father of Peeps, has died at age 98.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Ira “Bob” Born, the former president of Just Born Quality Confections who mechanized the process to create Peeps, has died.

He was 98.

During Born’s time at Just Born, especially with the advent of Peeps, the company scaled its production — earning Born the title the “Father of Peeps.”

Born also created the recipe for Hot Tamales candies.

Outside of candy making, Born was known as a Renaissance man with many talents, according to his son, Ross Born.

He was a member of the Bethlehem Bach Choir, took classical guitar lessons, did woodworking and played chess. He also had a passion for photography.

Most of all, Ross Born said Bob Born will be remembered as a "real mensch" — a person of integrity and honor.

“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,” said Ross Born, who is company chief executive officer and recently announced retirement plans.

230130 Bob Born 2.jpg
Ross Born
Bob Born, former president of Just Born Quality Confections who died Sunday at age 98.

In 2019, the city of Bethlehem declared Feb. 15 as “Bob Born Day” to honor his lasting impact on the community.

Early years

Bob Born was born in New York City on Sept. 29, 1924. His father was Sam Born, a Russian immigrant who had founded Just Born Inc., a small confectionery manufacturer, a year before.

The family moved to Allentown in 1932 and relocated to Bethlehem soon after. Bob Born graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in engineering physics after two and a half years of study; he was “fast tracked” because of World War II, according to Ross Born.

Bob Born then enlisted in the Navy as a radar specialist and soon became a lieutenant serving on a destroyer in the Pacific. Later, the Navy sent him to both the University of Arizona and MIT for graduate studies in math and physics.

In 1946, Born applied and was accepted to medical school. While waiting for medical school to start, he helped his dad with Just Born. He fell in love with the work and decided to dedicate his career to the family business.

“The candy business was kind of catchy … it was interesting to him," Ross Born said. "He enjoyed the science, the technology, the processing, he was very much into the equipment."

Earning the name 'Father of Peeps'

In 1953, Just Born acquired Rodda Candy Company. The company was focused on making jelly beans, but had a side product of shaped marshmallow candies it made by hand out of a pastry bag.

The process was inefficient; it took about 26 hours to make the marshmallows.

But Bob Born saw potential in the candies. So he and an engineer took on the responsibility of designing and building a machine to make them.

At the time, no one else was making shaped marshmallows at a large scale, Ross Born said.

“There was nobody doing that kind of thing,” Ross Born said. “You couldn't buy a machine like that. So he built it.”

“There was nobody doing that kind of thing. You couldn't buy a machine like that. So he built it.”
Ross Born, son of Bob Born

After more than nine months of work, Bob Born and the engineer had made a new machine that could make the candies in less than six minutes.

Ross Born said while it was redesigned several times, the company used a similar kind of machine to the one Bob Born invented for about 45 years.

Now, Peeps have become one of Just Born’s most popular candies. According to Just Born, Peeps have been the No. 1 non-chocolate brand at Easter for more than 20 years.

Other contributions to Just Born

Bob Born also came up with the recipe for another popular Just Born candy, Hot Tamales, when he was trying to figure out how to optimize the candy making process and use up misshapen products.

Ross Born said Bob Born came up with these new ideas because he was not afraid to try new things and make mistakes. He thought of mistakes as something to learn from rather than avoid, Ross Born said.

“That was his nature,” Born said. “He didn't say, ‘No, we can't do something.’ He said ‘Well, we'll figure it out.’”

Bob Born spent almost 40 years with Just Born. He worked to mentor many people in the company and encouraged his colleagues to see the potential in people, despite their differences, Ross Born said.

“He set the tone for embracing differences and having people work to their full potential,” he said.

Later in life

During much of his retirement, Bob Born lived in Florida. He was chairman of a literacy program there in an underserved community. He recruited more than 100 volunteers for the program.

Bob Born was active up until a few months before he died, Ross Born said. Then, he had a hard fall from which he never truly recovered.

“When we're younger, we can bounce back" from injuries. "When you're older, it takes a lot more time. And sometimes you just don't bounce back."

Bob Born is survived by his widow, Patricia; children Sara and Ross, along with their spouses, Bob and Wendy; five grandchildren, Melissa, Sheryl, Aaron, Lisa and Amy; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services for Born, who died Sunday, will be private. Levines Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Contributions may be made to American Technion Society, Israel Guide Dog Center, or any literacy program, Ross Born said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ross Born is a founding supporter of LehighValleyNews.com. He has no influence on our editorial or business operations.