Zion Industries

Zion Industries, Inc.

About halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee lies a town where the bakery Fig Bars and candy Fig Pies were born. The town of Zion was officially launched in 1900 after a year of planning and surveying by John Alexander Dowie.

Dowie was a Christian zealot who moved to Chicago in 1893. By 1896, his Christian Catholic Apostolic Church had acquired a large following. Dowie, an advocate of clean living, began to look for land on which to build a city where his followers could live under the laws of his church.

He chose 6,400 acres of farmland between Chicago and Milwaukee, where Zion grew almost overnight. Strict laws enforced by Dowie and his church controlled all activities. The Church owned all industrial and commercial establishments. Theaters and drugstores were prohibited, as were sales of liquor, tobacco, playing cards, oysters and clams, rabbit meat, and pork.

Completed in four months in 1901, a large all-frame structure housed male members who came ahead of their families to build homes in the new city. The building had more than 350 rooms and in later years was known as the Zion Hotel. It became a Midwest landmark before being razed in 1979. Buildings to house the various industries controlled by the church were also hurriedly constructed. By the early 1900s about twenty industries governed by the church as Zion Industries, Inc., had taken shape.

Two of these industries were the Baking Division and a Candy Division. The Baking Division first produced a general line of crackers, cookies, cakes and pies. But some church leaders were seeking a distinctive product. They looked to the Bible and therein found reference to the fig. So was born, in 1920, the Zion Fig Bar, a product that was to make the name Zion a household word throughout much of the United States, especially from the 1920s through the 1950s.

The Candy Division first turned out a general line of candy, and by the 1920s was producing candy bars. Due to the popularity of the fig bar in the Baking Division they introduced their own version - the Fig Pie candy bar. It was chocolate-coated with a confectionery center. Other candy bars that were good sellers in the late 1920s and into the 1930s were the Cheer Leader, Cocoaroon, and Cherry Sundae.

Wilbur Glenn Voliva, who oversaw the church after Dowies death in 1907, strictly enforced the law established by Dowie. But by 1939, Voliva lost political control of the city, which had alternated between prosperity and bankruptcy over the years. Through reorganization, the real estate was allotted to individual owners. Today Zion resembles its neighboring communities and differs little from mainstream America. A main attraction of the community in the spring is the Zion Passion Play, which was first performed in 1935. The Baking Divisionis the only division of Zion Industries still in operation*. The Candy Division closed in 1961. The Zion Fig Pie sold well into the 1940s and early 1950s before disappearing. It deserves a place in candy bar history if for nothing else that it was inspired by verses in the Bible.

Candy Bar Gazebo, Fall 1994

*The Zion Bakery ceased production in 1988. Cookies bearing the Zion label are currently manufactured in Wheeling, Illinois.