Allen's Sweets was founded by Alfred Weaver Allen (1870–1925), a Melbourne confectioner. Originally employed by MacRobertson's, in 1891 Allen leased a shop in Brunswick street, Fitzroy, and went out on his own. Although his capital was very limited, he erected a galvanised iron shed at the rear and in it he began to manufacture sweets.
Mr. Allen's business grew rapidly and several times he transferred his factory to larger premises. During the 1890s, he took over the premises of two apparently failed companies. By 1909, Allen's was the third largest confectionery business in Melbourne, after those of MacRobertson and Abel Hoadley.
After World War I, Allen set in motion a plan to create a niche in competition with the chocolate giants, by pooling resources and expertise and rationalise production of five independent specialist sweets-makers (one partner was a dentist!). This amalgamation took place in 1917, the other firms which were parties to the arrangements were Messrs. Craig and Suter, of Fitzroy; Clark, Luke Pty. Ltd., of Richmond; the National Candy Co. of Richmond, Tuckett, Obbinson, and Co. Pty. Ltd. of North Melbourne, and the Amazon Confectionery Co., of Melbourne.
Mr. Allen became chairman and managing director, and the other firms were represented on the directorate. For some time manufacturing was done in six separate factories, pending the erection of a large modern factory building to the design of prominent Melbourne architect Joseph Plottel in Riverside avenue, South Melbourne, opposite Flinders Street Station. The whole of the operations of the company were transferred to the building early in 1924. In 1922 the business became a public company, the name being altered to A. W. Allen Ltd.
Allen's became Australia's largest confectionery company by focusing on manufacturing none chocolate sweets including jubes, cough drops and soft-centred sweets: Kool Mints, Coconut Quivers, Irish Moss Gum Jubes, Cure 'Em Quick, Steam Rollers, Anticol, Butter Menthols, licorice blocks, straps and ropes, conversation lollies, mint leaves, spearmint leaves,jelly tots, gum drops, milkos, false teeth, bananas, milk bottles, red skins, aniseed balls, gobstoppers and gumboils, rainbow balls, raspberries, sherbets, snakes alive, chicos, peaches & cream, strawberries & cream, red frogs, green frogs, black cats and the like.
Allen's was purchased by UK-based Rothmans Holdings in 1985, and later sold to Nestlé. Today many of these lollies are still available under the brand name of Allen's Sweets, but in packets, unlike the early days when they were sold loose by lolly shops and delis to children who had to make the agonising choice of what to spend their pocket money on. Sadly, oldfavourites Spearmint Leaves and Green Frogs were deleted from the Allen's range in June 2015, victims of changes in taste by a new generation of children.
Of the many hundreds of neon displays erected around Melbourne in the inter-war years, Audrey and the Nylex Clock are the best known of only a half dozen or so remaining neon displays from this era. Each has had to survive the ravages of age, neglect, and urban development - and only survive today thanks to the two key elements that unfortunately the survival of any such iconic masterpiece requires: overwhelming public support and corporate sponsorship.
Sadly, the iconic Allen's Sweets sign was not so lucky. The sign is generally recognised as being the most spectacular animated sign in Victoria. An early version of it was mounted on the roof of an old factory next to Allen's Sweets' 1920s South Melbourne factory. The scaffolding which held up the sign had originally been erected to display an advertisement for a Holden car, but Allen's erected their own sign on it in 1955. It was a simple neon sign which just read "Allen's - Your Favourite Sweets", but in 1969 a more extravagant sign was created by Claude Neon, which involved several overlays variously reading "Allen's Sweets", "Cool Cool Kool Mints" and "Anticol Cough Drops".
The sign included a soaring rocket that travels in a trajectory over the sign until it reaches the centre, where it detonates into an array of colourful spark-like raindrops to catch attention and cough lollies actually falling from the Anticol packet. The entire sequence lasted a lenthy 35 seconds. In it's entirety, the Allen's Sweets sign measured 30 metres in width and 12 metres in height.
In 1987, A.W. Allen Ltd. moved from their South Melbourne location, and when plans for redevelopment of the vacant site were conceptualised, Allen's factory, along with other buildings around it, were earmarked for demolition. A campaign was mounted to move them to another building, and Allen’s offered to contribute to the cost, but the city council vetoed the proposal, leaving the sign with no place to go and be torn down in 1987.
The redevelopment of Southbank closed the history books on a landscape that was very different from what we know today, with many landmarks that were familar to generations before, like the Allen's sign, lost forever.
Originally made by Australian manufacturer Allen’s, Killer Pythons are still technically available but in 2014, fans were outraged as the massive jelly snakes were halved in size. Such was the furore, the story was reported in almost every major Australian news outlet, with people seemingly unaware they could just buy more than one if they wanted the same amount of snake as previously sold. Killer Pythons contain three times a human’s recommended daily sugar intake in one tasty treat.
Fruit Tingles have a long history in Australia and New Zealand, though details of their origin are sketchy. Originally manufactured by Allen's in Melbourne since the 1930s, they were rebranded in the 1990s as Wonka Fruit Tingles as part of Nestlé's purchase of the Allen's brand in 1985, and more recently became branded as Life Savers Fruit Tingles in the Asia Pacific region in 2005.
As of April 2019, Life Saver branded Fruit Tingles are manufactured by Darrell Lea Confectionary in Ingleburn, NSW, Australia, with five types on sale: Fruit Tingles, Musk, Pep O Mint, Fruit Pastilles and Blackcurrant Pastilles. Fruit Tingles are unique in flavour, chalky textured, multicoloured, disc shaped, with a variety of fruit flavours and level of effervescence.
Cobbers are an Aussie invention, and were produced by Allen's Sweets. The name of the chewy chocolated coated caramel blocks conjures up many Australian an Anzac sentiments of mate-ship and Aussie spirit. Indeed the name cobber itself is Australian parlance for good friend or “good mate” as we say here in Oz. A lot of older Aussies seem to remember cobbers being bigger than the current those currently available, but this may be because they were introduced to them as children, and things always seem bigger to children than to adults.
The word Cobber probably has its origins in Yiddish chaber, ‘comrade’. It is first recorded in Australian English from the late 19th century, but came to have particular resonance during the First World War through its use by Australian soldiers. A small number of Australian English words have their likely origins in Yiddish, a Jewish language with its origins in German, and with several regional variations. Words with a Yiddish origin came into Australian English both through the migration of Yiddish speakers to Australia, as well as through transferred uses and variants of terms that had developed in British English and slang.