A story says that a choirmaster, in 1670, was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas nativity service. So he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet! As he wanted to remind them of Christmas, he made them into a 'J' shape like a shepherds crook, to remind them of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus at the first christmas. However, the earliest records of 'candy canes' comes from over 200 years later, so the story, although rather nice, probably isn't true.
Sometime around 1900 the red stripes were added and they were flavored with peppermint or wintergreen.
Sometimes other Christian meanings are giving to the parts of the canes. The 'J' can also mean Jesus. The white of the cane can represent the purity of Jesus Christ and the red stripes are for the blood he shed when he died on the cross. The peppermint flavor can represent the hyssop plant that was used for purifying in the Bible.
Around 1920, Bob McCormack, from Georgia, started making canes for his friends and family. They became more and more popular and he started his own business called Bob's Candies. Bob McCormack's brother-in-law, Gregory Harding Keller (pictured at right, courtesy Georgia Encyclopedia), who was a Catholic priest, invented the 'Keller Machine' that made turning straight candy sticks into curved candy canes automatically. In 2005, Bob's Candies was bought by Farley and Sathers but they still make candy canes.