Bill and Dorothy Harmsen founded the Jolly Rancher Company in 1949, choosing the name to give the impression of a friendly Western company, and opened their first Jolly Rancher Ice Cream Store in Golden, Colorado on May 28, 1949. Finding that ice cream was hard to sell in the cold winter months, they added a line of bulk and boxed chocolate that was provided by a small candy farm in the Denver area. Jolly Rancher Company opened a number of franchise stores in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska and provided both chocolate candies and a five cent hot cinnamon taffy stick that proven to be very popular. It was this candy's popularity that caused Jolly Rancher Company to expand its hard candy line.
Jolly Rancher, Incorporated filed for a trademark for Jolly Rancher as a word mark on March 31, 1958, and received registration number 0695762 for that trademark on April 5, 1960. The first use in commerce for that Jolly Rancher word mark was noted in the filing as being June 1,1960.
In 1966, Jolly Rancher Company was sold to Beatrice Foods, although Bill Harmsen continued to operate the business. In 1983, Leaf, Inc. acquired a number of candy brands from Beatrice, Jolly Rancher included. In October 1996, The Hershey Company agreed to purchase the North American confectionery brands of Leaf, Inc. which included Jolly Rancher, Whoppers, Milk Duds, Good & Plenty, PayDay and Heath bar. As part of the transaction, Hershey agreed to sell most of its European candy operations to Huhtamaki Oy, Leaf's parent company.
In 2002, Hershey closed the Wheat Ridge, Colorado plant and moved the manufacturing of the candy to Mexico to save costs.
In 2014, Hershey acquired Ontario based company The Allan Candy Co. and moved the manufacturing of the candy exclusively to the Granby plant, in Quebec, Canada.