Pez, short for the German word “pfefferminz” or peppermint in English, was first introduced in Austria by Eduard Haas, III in 1927 as a breath mint for adult smokers.
The Pez brand is trading on near cult like status these days. And believe it or not, just like Louis Vuitton, people are finding ways to make a quick buck off of counterfeiting the novelty item. A clear gun from the fifties that sold on Ebay for about $13,000 ended up being a fake.
Popular Pez sets have included Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and most recently, the US Presidents. Here are a few resin mock ups.
Collecting Pez has become a serious business. “Some people buy cars, some people buy art work, some people buy Pez dispensers," said collector Shawn Peterson, referring to the recent $20,000 sale of a rare donkey and elephant. He says only 3 of the donkey dispensers are known to exist.
Mr. Pez President
The donkey and elephant set was originally created as part of a larger set as a gift for President Kennedy in 1961. The set was returned and though it’s reportedly in Austria, hasn’t been seen since.
Billions of Bricks
The privately held, still family owned company ships about 100 million dispensers to more than 80 countries around the world. It’s most popular in the United States, Americans eat more than 3 billion of the tiny “bricks” of candy annually.
John Ratzenberger, better known as Cliff from Cheers, approached Pez CEO and President, Joseph Vittoria, about creating a set of dispensers to depict every Pixar character he’s voiced for the film company’s CEO, John Lassiter.The set is now on display in the Pez company Visitor Center in Orange, Connecticut.
The “headless” dispenser or regular was patented in 1948. According to Shawn Peterson, Pez didn’t take off in the United States until the 1950’s.
How it Began
“Somebody in marketing said, you know what let’s change it from Peppermint flavors to fruit flavors and put a cartoon head on it. This is something kids would like,” said Peterson. Thus launching the Pez phenomenon.
Sign of the Times
Adults and kids alike soon clamored for the latest incarnation of their favorite Disney character or superhero. Even as a young boy, CEO and President, Joseph Vittoria, says he was hooked. “Think about your own childhood growing up. I don’t know about you but my mom always brought me some Pez dispensers. I think that connection to what was happening at the time is what Pez was known for.”
It’s the pint-sized piece of plastic and fruity candy that’s captured the hearts of millions around the world. Pez. From Mickey Mouse to Santa Claus and Darth Vader in between, the list of larger than life characters immortalized by the company is long.