A cultural icon, PEZ attracts fans and collectors but did you know it originally courted smokers?
1) PEZ was originally a breath mint for adults
In 1927, PEZ first took shape under the creative guidance of confectioner Eduard Haas III in Vienna, Austria. The name PEZ came from the German word pefferminz, meaning peppermint, the mint’s original flavor. Haas took the first, middle, and last letter of pefferminz to create the name PEZ.
2) The first PEZ were round and created as an aid to reduce smoking
It was thought by Haas that these mints could be used as a replacement for cigarettes and thus represented an early effort in smoking prevention. The initial version of the mint was called PEZ Drops which were round candies wrapped in rolls. Haas pursued the rectangular shape we know today because of how frustrating it was to wrap the mints. Cheaper to produce in the new shape, by the 30s PEZ shifted to metal tins and really took off as they were easy to tuck in a pocket or a purse.
3) PEZ didn’t get a dispenser until World War II
In the 1940s Haas came up with an idea to increase PEZ sales; include a mint dispenser. Reaching out to friend and inventor Oscar Uxa, he would plant the idea in Uxa which would lead to the first dispenser in 1948. Uxa referred to his creation as a “box regular” and modeled it after a lighter to play into Haas’ broader anti-smoking campaign. Springs were used to push the mints out, and the flip-top Uxa created featured a design that could be put to use with just one hand.
4) PEZ didn’t arrive in the United States until the 50s
PEZ came to American markets in 1953 and didn’t find a lot of success. The flavor was too much like other mints on the market and this motivated the company to move in the direction of fruit flavors and new packaging, which lead the way to what came next in 1955.
5) PEZ didn’t add heads until 1955
In an effort to broaden their sales base, PEZ began marketing their product more as candy and targeted children for the first time. Starting in 1955, they began placing heads on the dispensers and it worked. Even today, character-based dispensers are introduced regularly to capitalize on marketing trends. Available in more than 60 countries, over 3 billion PEZ candies are consumed annually in the US alone.
6) PEZ are under a lot of pressure to perform
As the PEZ goes through its formative first moments, a single piece of candy is exposed to 3,000 pounds of pressure, which compresses the sugar into the familiar brick shape we know so well.
7) A PEZ collector is known as a “PEZhead”
Despite its long history, collecting PEZ is actually a newer trend. The first national gathering of PEZ collectors was held on Saturday June 15, 1991 in Mentor, Ohio. Since that time, collector conventions (like Pezmania, for example) have grown throughout the US. Sure, the dispensers (and candy) were popular with 80s kids, but it was really the 90s that ushered in the more collectible side of PEZ hunting and is the period where prices began to escalate with vintage examples’ value skyrocketing.
8) There was once a clown mascot for the brand
In the 70s and 80s, Peter PEZ was the clown who served up the brand in ads and represented the company.
9) The story that PEZ is partially responsible for the creation of eBay isn’t actually true
One of the earliest items sold on eBay was actually a broken laser pointer. The myth that the site creator’s girlfriend suggested eBay to help sell off a PEZ collection was actually a story created by eBay’s marketing department to spice up their origin story in 1997. This was confirmed as fact in Adam Cohen’s 2002 book The Perfect Store. Following its release, eBay also confirmed the fact.
10) What is the best selling PEZ dispenser of all time?
Thanks in no small part to stockings being stuffed regularly over the years, Santa Claus remains the company’s best seller.
Let’s not stop there with the fun facts. Here are a few more “honorable mention” side notes. Most expensive PEZ? That honor would go to a 50s transparent space gun dispenser which is rumored to have sold for more than $11,000. The Holy Grail PEZ? The honors for rarest would got to Mr. Potato Head styled “Make a Face” PEZ. As this PEZ came with attachable face pieces it was quickly pulled from the market as a choking hazard. Tallest? So far the Marge Simpson PEZ claims that honor in most collectors books at 5′ 1/8″. Most popular? That’s a bit up for debate among PEZheads who go back and forth between Santa and Mickey Mouse (though everyone has their own favorite.) Similarly debated is the first PEZ head. Was it Mickey Mouse or was it Popeye? We may never know. What we do know though, is that the original PEZ Girl advertising campaigns were amazing!