Jolly Rancher treasure trove finds permanent museum home

Jolly Rancher treasure trove finds permanent museum home

Happy farmers, jolly ranchers and candy cowboys gather ‘round because a premiere Jolly Rancher collection is coming to Golden History Museum & Park. After years of working with members of the Harmsen family, John Harmsen, the grandson to founders Bill and Dorothy Harmsen, decided we’re the best place to preserve this sweet slice of Colorado history. When completed in 2021, the generous donation will represent the finest public collection of Jolly Rancher history anywhere.   

Jolly Rancher is one of Golden’s most recognized exports behind Coors beer and countless highly educated mining engineers. It grew to national fame as the candy from Colorado. From a humble beginning on Washington Avenue dishing soft serve ice cream in a rented storefront, the Harmsens quickly pivoted to crafting quality chocolates before hitting a winner with a cinnamon hard candy forever known to history as Fire Stix.

Over a year ago I approached John to discuss the sizable collection he inherited from his father, and onetime Jolly Rancher President Bob Harmsen. Bob was passionate about his family’s history and their candy legacy. As a result he amassed a sizable collection, some of which he loaned to Golden History Museum over the years. Safely stored were early documents from the founding and several buy outs. The Ward Road plant (that’s right—in Wheat Ridge, not Golden) was closed and finally demolished in 2005.   

A major donation like this requires a work plan. I’ve spent a couple of days with John over the past few months sorting and sifting through countless items and boxes scattered across different rooms on two levels of the family offices. We’ve been assessing value and quality, looking for the best items to tell the story. Our work isn’t done. In September I retrieved nine different company films and interviews from John’s basement and sent them out to be digitized. Have a listen to this four-and-a-half-minute profile of William (Bill) Harmsen by Bob Lilly of KOA Denver, recorded July 10, 1957, and stored in our online collection

Other highlights include:

  • Product packaging and design (including original works by industrial designer Otto Kuhler and Bob Cormack)
  • Chocolate candy molds
  • Signage and advertising
  • Various media (including original photographs, films, and interviews)
  • Memorabilia like belt buckles and hat pins
  • Custom sports sponsorship materials (In the 1980s the company sponsored a rodeo team; John donated a custom team jacket, chaps, and team photo.)
  • Corporate archives on the early franchising efforts and more

The donation will be known as the Harmsen Family Collection. While work continues on our multiyear Legacy Collection Inventory Project, we’re committing time to processing this important new collection to add to our publicly available online resources.

If you have a Jolly Rancher memory to share or are hanging onto something that belongs in the museum, I’d love to talk. Contact me at 303-277-8714 or

–Mark Dodge, Curator


This article appeared in the December 2020 issue of the Golden Informer.