Some American colonists celebrated Guy Fawkes Day, and in the mid-19th century large numbers of new immigrants, especially those fleeing Ireland’s potato famine in the 1840s, helped popularize Halloween. In the early 20th century, Irish and Scottish communities revived the Old World traditions of souling and guising in the United States. By the 1920s, however, pranks had become the Halloween activity of choice for rowdy young people, sometimes amounting to more than $100,000 in damages each year in major metropolitan areas.
The Great Depression exacerbated the problem, with Halloween mischief often devolving into vandalism, physical assaults and sporadic acts of violence. One theory holds that it was the excessive pranks on Halloween that led to the widespread adoption of an organized, community-based trick-or-treating tradition in the 1930s. This trend was abruptly curtailed, however, with the outbreak of World War II, when children had to refrain from trick-or-treating because of sugar rationing.
At the height of the postwar baby boom, trick-or-treating reclaimed its place among other Halloween customs, quickly becoming standard practice for millions of children in America’s cities and newly built suburbs. No longer constrained by sugar rationing, candy companies capitalized on the lucrative ritual, launching national advertising campaigns specifically aimed at Halloween. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the nation’s second-largest commercial holiday.