Somewhere in our past, we all remember nibbling on PEZ candies. The quirky rectangular pastel-colored tablets are perhaps best known for the patented plastic dispensers with comic book and other novelty characters perched on top. Those longing to reminisce by looking at a bit of memorabilia from their childhood (or perhaps just seeking a sugar buzz) should visit the PEZ Visitor Center in Orange, Connecticut. Tucked inside the company’s only U.S. production facility, this museum celebrates all things PEZ with displays on the history of the brand and an impressive collection of PEZ dispensers and ephemera.
PEZ A PEZ candy pack from the 1930s. Photo Larissa Milne
PEZ were invented in Austria in 1927 by Eduard Hass III as a stop-smoking measure. Derived from the German word for peppermint (PffeffErminZ), the candies originally came in small tins. In 1949, the now-iconic handheld dispensers, invented by Oscar Uxa, were introduced at the Vienna Trade Fair. The original (headless) dispenser was designed to replicate a cigarette lighter that, instead of a flame, delivered a candy as a snack.
PEZ began distribution in America in 1952; shortly thereafter, the company received its first U.S. patent for a candy dispenser. To appeal to children, PEZ began placing three-dimensional character heads on the dispensers in 1957; the first was a Halloween witch. The company now produces 12 million tablets a day at its Orange, Connecticut, facility, which opened in 1973.
Your first hint that you’re in the PEZ neighborhood is the sweet smell wafting over the parking lot; some 100,000 pounds of sugar a week are converted into the bite-size morsels. A two-story-tall mechanical PEZ dispenser greets museum visitors; kids love to activate it at the push of a giant button to watch it partially dispense a shoe-box-size facsimile candy at the top. Glass cases are chockful of PEZ memorabilia, including tin advertising signs, original advertisements and an array of PEZ dispensers. Displays also reveal some flavors that didn’t catch on, including licorice and chlorophyll.
PEZ Santa Claus is the most popular PEZ dispenser Photo Larissa Milne
A glass wall separates the museum from the packaging area, where workers wearing hair nets and lab coats sort through metal chutes conveying a kaleidoscopic array of candy packets and dispensers. The workers combine them for their trip to the machinery that places them in blister packs for distribution throughout North America.
Weekday afternoons provide a special treat: visitors can enter a special area (which is kept at a cool 68 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the sugar from melting) for a candy-making demonstration in which sugar in an array of colors is converted into PEZ candies. (Hint: It involves a machine that applies 3,000 pounds of pressure in a nanosecond.) Best of all, you get to sample the results! At any time, visitors can ham it up with funny hats and pose with their head atop a life-size PEZ dispenser in a photo op display.
PEZ The largest working PEZ dispenser in the world Photo Larissa Milne
Over the years, PEZ dispensers have displayed characters from films such as The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars, NASCAR drivers, cartoon stars ranging from the Peanuts gang to Shrek, and even members of the rock band KISS, all of which are among the thousand or so dispensers on display.
The most popular PEZ dispenser each year? Santa Claus. And, like Santa, PEZ has become a childhood classic.
IF YOU GO
PEZ Candy, Inc.
35 Prindle Hill Road
Monday through Saturday, 10am – 5pm; Sunday, noon – 5pm
Admission for adults, $5; seniors (60+) and children ages 3–12, $4; children under age 3, free. Candy-making demonstration, offered weekdays between 1:15pm and 3:15pm, is an additional $3. All admission comes with a $2 credit for the PEZ gift shop.
pez.com • 203-298-0201