Bora Bromberg ∙ 12/23/2021 ∙ December 2021
Ah, the PEZ dispenser. The classic toy, the classic candy. A classic combination all true Americans dream of. A candy-dispensing body, iconic character head, and disgusting chawky pellets come together in the greatest invention of all of mankind. One may ask themselves, where and when did this glorious idea come from? Well, I’m here to tell you the facts of this glorious classic’s history, as also stated on trustworthy sources such as pezspiracy.com.
To begin our story, we find ourselves in 1942 Connecticut, home of Philip E. Zastname, a 23-year-old man about to leave home for the war. Philip's mother hands him a pack of his favorite candy: M&Ms. Little does she know that this will change the history of candy forever.
Fast-forward to Germany: young Zastname is stationed in a trench. Still holding on to the M&Ms his mother gave him, Philip realizes that the famous slogan was false; M&Ms do, in fact, melt in your hand! With his reality melting in front of him and a dire need to find a solution, Philip places his candy within the used magazine of an automatic gun, to keep them safe during battle.
Unfortunately, just as Philip got ready to join his fellow soldiers, he shot himself in the foot and bled out.
When another soldier came to clean up the mess of Zastname, he came across the magazine that Philip had used, marked with his initials: P.E.Z. (Wow! Bet you didn't see that coming!)
This soldier, named George Jefferson (not related to any founding fathers of America, to be clear), was inspired by Philip’s candy-filled magazine and took it to his workshop.
Believe it or not, the iconic PEZ candy itself was actually invented by accident, after George spilled wood dust, chalk, and gunpowder into glue—the same recipe that is still sold and “eaten” today!
After several explosive prototypes and remarkably few casualties, Jefferson took his invention to the streets. But the product was not a success at first. Some people found the explosive texture off-putting.
That was when George realized the weakness of the invention was a lack of marketability. So, he gave his product large bobble-like heads to convey the fun and Americanness of the product. And, to honor the inspiration for his product, he named it after that fallen soldier Philip Zastname.
The first PEZ heads were of American icons, such as Uncle Sam, President Roosevelt, and a dead German soldier. With these funky fresh heads came new flavors for the candy, too: molasses, vegetable, and the fan favorite “sour.”
The new marketing strategy was an immediate success and PEZ quickly became a household name.
But then tragedy struck. PEZ was taken off the shelves. Due to poor production quality and disregard for basic safety standards, PEZ's bobble head dispensers were extremely dangerous, and had been dispensing pain and misery instead of just candy. Child gangs would fire the candy like bullets and then use the feet of the dispenser to stab their foes whilst admiring the President Roosevelt's friendly face. Truly a tragedy, especially considering that the candy was still explosive.
Due to parent complaints, for a period of time, stores had to replace PEZ with the more safe and popular toy/candy combo for kids of the time: a gun and a pack of cigarettes. And so PEZ disappeared from the face of humanity for several years. During this time, George Jefferson prematurely passed away, most likely due to gunpowder consumption. Without its creator to support it, PEZ seemed doomed to end.
But then a Christmas miracle happened. LIFE magazine made a typo in their list of the top gifts of 1955. Instead of the number one spot going to “A Pet” (dogs were very popular that year), someone wrote “A Pez.” LIFE tried to fix this typo, but their typo guy’s attempt to write over the “z” in everyone’s copies of the magazine came too late. The public demanded PEZ, and stores had no choice but to put them back on the shelves.
Now under the new management of Jefferson’s son, George Jefferson Jr, new characters were chosen for the PEZ comeback, including Mickey Mouse, Popeye the Sailor Man, and the returning dead German soldier, now further decomposing.
And that, my friends, is the story of how the magazine of a weapon became a candy, a weapon again, and then a popular candy once more.
Join me next month, where I will tell you how the Junior Mint originated from cyanide capsules.