Once upon a time there were two sons who wanted to out-do their dads.
Forest Mars didn’t get along with his wildly successful dad, Frank Mars. Dad founded the Mars Candy Company with popular treats like Milky Way, Snickers, and later, Three Musketeers.
Forrest was sent to run the family business in Europe. It got him out of dad’s hair and hopefully groomed him to run the company. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) Forrest noticed soldiers nibbling on British Smarties – a chocolate candy covered in a sugar shell, ideal for warm climates. The candy never melted in your hand!
Bruce was the son of candy tycoon William Murrie, President of Hershey’s. Bruce hated how his dad ran the company.
In 1941 Forrest patented his process of producing button-sized, candy-covered chocolate in the U.S. He joined up with Bruce: Forrest had the patent and Bruce had the chocolate – a marriage made in heaven. It was wartime (World War II) and Hershey controlled the country’s chocolate rationing.
The name of their company was Mars & Murrie. M&M for short.
Their first customer was the U.S. military. M&Ms were heat-resistant, travelled well, and supplied “high energy” in soldiers’ field rations.
When the GIs returned from war they craved M&Ms. Demand surged and the company grew. The larger the company, the more problems. Murrie sold out in 1949 for one million dollars and Mars & Murrie became part of the Mars Company.
The name stuck. Today, over four million M&Ms are produced each day.
Secrecy was key. According to Katie Serena in ATI History, “Legend has it that contractors hired to repair machines once had to be led in blindfolded, that executives would disguise themselves for meetings with competitors and outsiders, and that the decision-making process [was] extremely cutthroat.”
No surprise. The idea was stolen from the Brits and no one wanted history to repeat itself.
Expansion was inevitable – with new colors, flavors, and sizes. In 1954 peanut M&Ms were introduced, along with the catchy slogan “milk chocolate that melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”
Both are still thriving.
By 1981, M&Ms had gone into space over 30 times, was a mainstay in The White House (Presidential M&Ms) and was the candy of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Mars declared them the official candy of the millennium (MM in Roman numerals is 2000).
Spokescandies arrived in the 1990s. Those charming cartoon characters spoke in “voices” from celebrities including John Goodman, John Lovitz, and Vanessa Williams. Spokescandies have their own personalities like witty Red, cool Blue, and wise Brown. They appear on screen, print, advertising, gifts . . . who doesn’t love them?
In 2022 the characters bowed to the demands of right-wing conservatives and got a new look. No one wanted a Mickey Mouse battle. Now Green wears sneakers instead of high-heeled boots and doesn’t have a “flirty pose,” Orange has tied laces, and Brown swapped stilettos for block heels. The naysayers still claim that Purple is obese (it’s the same size as the others).
Have you noticed?
Today there are 60 different M&M flavors from original to birthday cake and mint to caramel cold brew. They celebrate holidays with limited editions like Cookies and Screeem, Christmas mint, and Hanukah blue and white. You can get M&M pretzels, almonds, minis, fun packs, party size . . . the offers are always changing. It’s a big deal when you’re one of the world’s most popular candies, sold in over 100 countries.
With so many M&Ms not melting in your hand, strange things happen. Mars was sued by The Naked Cowboy for showing a mascot with a guitar and tight white shorts; M&Ms were “accused” of being woke; and others claimed that the candy cracked their teeth.
Astronauts developed a “space game” on their missions. They tossed a handful into the air and tried to catch the floating M&Ms in their mouths.
Guinness World Records has awarded some odd titles: Brendan Kelbie built the tallest stack of M&Ms (6) – an almost impossible feat. Brothers Mark and Ben Needle flipped the most peanut M&Ms (16) from behind one ear (Mark’s) and into Ben’s mouth. Carter Ritchey scored the most baskets (25) in one minute using a bag of M&Ms instead of a basketball.
There are toys, gifts, stores, pillows, customized candies, games, and shirts. You can find them in cakes, cookies, and ice cream. The list is constantly growing.
Where does it end?
In your mouth!