Before it was a collector's item, PEZ was an anti-smoking device

I grew up a few miles from the PEZ factory. Rumor had it you could sneak into the parking lot at night and steal trash bags from the dumpsters, full of perfectly good but malformed or damaged PEZ candies. Neither I nor anyone I knew actually did this, despite the fact that I had a decent-sized PEZ collection as a kid (including some kind of Santa Claus and Batman variants that were allegedly notorious).

While I vaguely knew that the PEZ Dispenser design had some sort of relationship to cigarette lighters, I only recently learned about the candy's full tobacco backstory, courtesy of this Smithsonian Magazine, which itself pulls largely from Shawn Peterson's book PEZ: From Austrian Invention to American Icon.

Apparently Austrian businessman Eduard Haas II had taken over his father's baking powder business, and was also a staunch anti-smoking advocate. So he eventually converted their manufacturing lines to use their thousand-pound force compression machines to create hyper-dense peppermints to sell to smokers. From the article:

Before he could sell the new product, Haas needed a name—something snappy and universal. He took the first, middle and last letters from the German word for peppermint, pfefferminz, and created PEZ.

The first PEZ candies, called PEZ Drops, were marketed as a luxury item for adults. Advertisements touted health benefits and showed couples about to kiss with the caption, "Deliciously fresh breath!" Early ads proclaimed, "No smoking, PEZing allowed!" Later, the Ed. Haas Company hired young women to drive around crowded locations in PEZ-branded trucks, wearing PEZ uniforms, and stand near busy squares and major events to hand out free samples of the peppermint treats. "Already PEZing?" asked pin-up girls in ads. The women, called PEZ Girls, "would soon arrive at famous landmarks around the world, offering the public a new way to freshen breath and refrain from smoking," writes Peterson.

The dispensers themselves didn't come along for another twenty years—and were not specifically made to look like lighters, but rather were just designed to fit into pockets. A few years later, the company finally turned to the American market, where there was less of a desire for things that reduced the smell and sensation of cigarettes. So the company had to find another way to market their product. And that's where kids came in.

Read more at the link.

How PEZ evolved from an anti-smoking tool to a beloved collector's item [Smithsonian Mag]

Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons