The history of candy floss
The machine used to make candy floss consists of a small bowl, into which sugar is poured and food coloring is added. The sugar reserve bowl is spun at high speed while heaters near the rim melt the sugar, which is squeezed out through tiny holes by [[centrifugal force]]. The molten sugar then solidifies in the air and is caught in a large metal bowl surrounding the central sugar reservoir bowl. The operator of the machine twirls a stick, cone, or their hands around the rim of the large catching bowl, gathering the sugar strands into portions. Modern candy floss machines work in much the same way as older ones.
Most people think the origin of cotton candy (also known as spun sugar" "fairy floss" or "candy floss") is a simple documented fact. It's not. There are several stories recounting the invention of cotton candy. All are interesting. None are definitive. Most accounts credit the invention of cotton candy to enterprising American businessmen at the turn of the 20th century. The 1904 Louisiana Exposition in St. Louis is often cited as the place where cotton candy was introduction to the American people.
The truth? Spun sugar was known long before this time. Mid-18th century master confectioners in Europe and America hand crafted spun sugar nests as Easter decorations and webs of silver and gold spun sugar for elaborate dessert presentations. At that time, spun sugar was an expensive, labor-intensive endeavor and was not generally available to the average person.
How was spun sugar made before the invention of modern machines?....
"To spin a Silver Web for covering Sweetmeats
Take a quarter of a pound of treble-refined sugar in one lump, and set it before a moderate fire on the middle of a silver salver or pewter plate. Set it a little aslant, and when it begins to run like clear water to the edge of the plate or salver, have ready a tin cover or china bowl set on a still, with the mouth downward close to your sugar that it may not cool by carrying too far. Then take a clean knife and take up as much of the syrup as the point will hold, and a fine thread will come from the point, which you must draw as quickly as possible backwards and forwards and also around the mould, as long as it will spin from the knife. Be very careful you do not drop the syrup on the web, if you do it will spoil it. Then dip your knife into the syrup again and take up more, and so keep spinning till your sugar is done or your web is thick enough. Be sure you do not let the knife touch the lump on the plate that is not melted, it will make it brittle and not spin at all. If your sugar is spent before your web is done put fresh sugar on a plate or salver, and not spin from the same plate again. If you don't want the web to cover the sweetmeats immediately, set it in a deep pewter from getting to it, and set it before the fire, it requires to be kept warm or it will fall. When your dinner or supper is dished, have ready a plate or dish of the size of your web filled with different coloured sweetmeats, and set your web over it. It is pretty for a middle, where the dishes are few, or corner where the number is large."
---The Experienced English Housekeeper, Elizabeth Raffald, with an introduction by Roy Shipperbottom [Southover Press:East Sussex UK] 1996 (p. 92)
[NOTE: this book also has instructions for a gold web and to make a Dessert of Spun Sugar.]