PEZ is one of the only candy brands that’s as famous for the container that holds the tiny candies as the actual candy itself. PEZ dispensers and the candy inside are a childhood staple but they were actually initially intended for a different audience and have been around for almost a century. Although they are sold all around the globe, they are made in one central location, even though they weren’t invented there.
Perhaps you’re among the many fans who enjoyed PEZ in your childhood and still have a few of your favorite dispensers laying around. This nostalgia has created some crazy demand for PEZ dispensers and some collectors are willing to pay outrageous premiums to add sought-after models to their collections. PEZ collectors and enthusiasts are an active community with a number of groups who meet up to buy, sell, and swap memorabilia. At one time there was even a museum dedicated to this quirky candy and toy combo where fans could feast their eyes on PEZ dispensers through the years. With a rich history that spans almost a century, this is the untold truth of PEZ candy.
There was once a PEZ flavor that tasted like plants
PEZ is available in some 90 countries all over the world and the available flavors differ from country to country (via PEZ). In the United States, PEZ flavors come in all the usual fruity suspects: orange, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, mango, and lemon (via PEZ). There’s also a cola flavor, a peppermint sugar-free variety, and a fizzy version that is reminiscent of Pop Rocks. There’s also a sour mix which is an assortment of tangy blueberry, green apple, lemon, lime, and watermelon flavors. Vegans can enjoy PEZ without having to worry — the candy contains no animal products and also contain no artificial colors (via PEZ).
However, the PEZ menu hasn’t always been so conventional. While licorice and coffee options were somewhat normal choices that were once offered, PEZ also once had a chlorophyll-flavored candy in the 1960s for fans who were interested in what plants tasted like without ever wanting to eat an actual plant. If you simply must try plant PEZ, a rare vintage package of chlorophyll PEZ can be yours via eBay for the measly price of just $145. As for how some decades-old PEZ might taste? Well, "eat at your own risk" seems appropriate here.
PEZ was developed as an alternative to smoking
Although today the candy comes in a variety of fruity flavors, there used to only be one option — peppermint. In fact, the name PEZ, comes from the German word Pfefferminz, which means "peppermint" (via Secret Vienna).
The candy was invented in Vienna, Austria, in 1927 by Eduard Haas III and at the beginning, they were essentially mints marketed as a smoking cessation aid. In fact, when Haas joined forces with Oscar Uxa, who developed the first PEZ dispenser, the dispenser was shaped like a cigarette lighter. It was introduced at the Vienna Trade Fair in 1949 and held the same number of candies (12) that the dispensers hold today. Before the advent of the PEZ dispenser, the peppermint candies were stored in small metal tins (via PEZ).
The product was so successful in Austria, that by 1935, just eight years after the product was brought onto the market, a new factory was built in Czechoslovakia (Modern day Czech Republic and Slovakia) to keep up with demand.
Although the newly-introduced mints worked quite well as a smoking cessation tool in Austria, they didn’t have the same desired effect in the United States. Smoking rates didn’t change much during the 1950s when the candies were brought to American shores, so the manufacturers decided to shift gears, changed the flavor to include a variety of fruity options, and started marketing the candies to children instead (via CNN).
PEZ toys have been auctioned off on Pawn Stars
A PEZ dispenser even made an appearance on the History Channel’s hit series Pawn Stars. The PEZ dispenser in question in the 2019 episode is a 1956 PEZ space ray gun, made the year before toy character heads were introduced to the United States market (via Youtube). Though the seller had a $500 price tag in mind, the show’s star Corey Harrison was concerned about the legitimacy of the item, noting that "there was a massive influx of counterfeit and fake PEZ dispensers," and that he "didn’t know what the market on PEZ dispensers [was]."
As a result, A PEZ expert was brought on, who vouched for its validity, although he doubted whether he thought the shop would be able to resell it since it was recalled as a choking hazard. In the end, the piece sold for $300, at least partly because it still came with the original instruction sheet, which made the item even more of a rarity.
A PEZ movie was once in the works
In 2015, Variety magazine reported that there was a PEZ animated movie in the pipeline. There was a good deal of excitement around the announcement as people anticipated that it would be a candy-esque version of The LEGO Movie, which was a huge success and prompted similar spinoffs such as The Emoji Movie and The Angry Birds Movie (via The Motley Fool). The Los Angeles-based Envision Media Arts was set to produce the film, which as you might have guessed, would have featured animated dispensers.
"PEZ candy is beloved by children and adults alike," CEO and Founder of Envision Media Arts Lee Nelson said at the time. "With [screenwriter] Cameron Fay we’ve created a world unique to PEZ and a story that will touch the hearts of many."
However, nothing has been announced for years since the original press release reporting that a film was in the works and was set to be released within two years. It’s probably safe to assume at this point, that the PEZ movie has been put back on the shelf for now. And though the animated movie was likely scrapped, it actually wasn’t the only time PEZ had the opportunity to be the subject of a film. In 2006, a documentary called PEZheads was made about the PEZ dispenser collection of Atlanta-area collector Chris Skeene (via Eater).
A single factory makes all the world’s PEZ
Though PEZ is available in dozens of countries across the globe, they don’t have factories in every country to produce and distribute the fruity candies. Instead, every single piece of PEZ candy in the world comes from one factory in Orange, Connecticut (via CNN). While this approach likely is a logistical nightmare, it almost certainly makes quality control somewhat easier than having to, say, send tasters across the world to make sure the product is up to snuff.
To make all that PEZ, the factory in Orange goes through 50,000 pounds of sugar every four days which is compressed with 3,000 pounds of pressure to form the tiny candies. According to The New Haven Register, the PEZ factory is able to churn out 12 million pieces of PEZ candy daily. This may seem like an incredibly vast number but the company has to keep pace with the equally impressive pace of PEZ consumption in the United States. Every year, the amount of PEZ consumed, just in the United States alone, numbers in the billions (via PEZ).
The PEZ visitor’s center offers an inside look into the candy’s production
At the PEZ factory in Orange, CT, there a visitor’s center which opened in 2011. The experience is spread over 4,000 square feet and contains the largest, most comprehensive of PEZ memorabilia on public display in the world. The factory’s museum boasts the world’s largest PEZ dispenser, a life-sized motorcycle built by Orange County Choppers, and an area where you can sneak a peek into the production facility and watch the candies be made (via PEZ). Some 500 people visit every day and the center typically sees somewhere between 70,000 and 75,000 visitors every year, on average (via The New Haven Register).
Admission for adults is $5 for adults and $4 for children and seniors, while children three and under are free (via PEZ). Admission comes with a $2 credit to use in the store, and rumor has it that if you complete a scavenger hunt, you’ll win a free PEZ dispenser (via This Connecticut Mom).
The Burlingame PEZ Museum is no more
This year would have been the 25th anniversary of the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia which claimed to have every PEZ dispenser ever sold — more than 1,000 of them (via Burlingame Museum Of PEZ Memorabilia). Unfortunately, the Bay area museum closed for good in July of 2019. The museum also claimed to have housed the world’s largest PEZ dispensing machine. However, the Visitor’s Center at the PEZ World Headquarters and Factory in Orange, Connecticut also says that it’s the be home to the world’s largest PEZ dispenser. Perhaps someone from Guinness Book of World Records should head to both of these locations with a tape measure to see what’s what?
The museum’s website features a detailed online exhibit as well, given that an in-person visit to the museum is no longer possible. Despite the museum’s doors no longer being open, it must have been good while it lasted – its Yelp rating is quite impressive, at a more than respectable 4.5 stars (via Yelp).
PEZ makes it into the Guinness Book of World Records
In 2016, yet another eccentric world record was broken when the world’s largest sculpture made out of PEZ dispensers was unveiled at the Aberdeen shopping center in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. (Via Guinness World Records). The structure in question was a five-foot by five-foot by seven-foot sculpture of Big Ben, London’s famous clocktower.
The project was undertaken as a part of the mall’s exhibition that highlighted British culture. Big Ben took a whopping 10,000 PEZ dispensers to put together (but really, anything is worth it if you wind up in the annals of history in a Guinness Book of World Records). The towering PEZ sculpture was created by Dio Wong, a Tokyo-based artist who used the help of local artists to complete the finished art piece. Right next to the clock sculpture stood another PEZ-related attraction – the London Eye, the city’s iconic Ferris wheel and Tower Bridge made out of PEZ pieces themselves rather than dispensers.
The world’s rarest Pez dispenser
While PEZ dispensers are simply plastic cartridges built to house and release sugary candies, there is certainly a very enthusiastic market of collectors who pay top dollar for rare, hard to find varieties. Thousands of variations have been produced, and while many of them are mass-marketed (the all-time best-selling PEZ dispenser is Santa Claus), some of them have been released in extremely limited quantities.
Some of the world’s most famous landmarks and products — such as the Eiffel Tower, Space Needle, X-Ray machine, and Ford Mustang — have been introduced at World’s Fairs (via Mental Floss). A PEZ dispenser with an astronaut head on the top which was created for the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee might need to be added to the list. While perhaps not as exciting as the Space Needle, there are allegedly only two in existence, one with a blue base and one with a white base, and both were made for PEZ employees (via Do You Remember?).
A PEZ convention has been going on for decades
If you’re a fan of PEZ, there’s a convention for you. Every year, the world’s largest gathering of Pez collectors descend on Ohio to celebrate all things PEZ and buy, sell, and trade memorabilia related to the candy at PEZmania. While the 2020 gathering was postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic, it would have been the 30th year of the PEZ fandom convention.
And although the PEZmania only takes place once a year, the organization sends out a bi-monthly newsletter to keep its subscribers up to date with all things PEZ. While the convention typically attracts more than 1,000 people from across the world, it’s hardly the only one out there. For instance, in 2018, there were at least three other PEZ conventions that took place across the United States, including one in Pennsylvania called — quite cleverly we might add – Pezylvania (via The New Haven Register).
The world’s most expensive PEZ dispensers
Some hard to find Pez dispensers have sold for eye-popping amounts. For example, the astronaut head PEZ dispenser created for the 1982 World’s Fair sold for a whopping $32,000 on eBay (via Do You Remember?). More recent models, like a pair of dispensers featuring the likenesses of Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, have also fetched high prices. The pair were sold at a charity auction event with the proceeds going to The Starlight Children’s Foundation in 2011 and went to the winning bidder for $13,360. (via Work and Money).
Assuming you aren’t in possession of a one-off PEZ dispenser like the rare astronaut, typically, older PEZ dispensers are worth more than their newer counterparts. A good way to check the age of your dispenser is to consult the patent number which is often molded in plastic on the stem of the dispenser. A number of online databases are available to tell you what time period your patent number corresponds to (via PEZlist).
There’s even a podcast dedicated to PEZ
Hosted by Andrea Gage and Justin Hansen, two collectors from Dos Palos, California, and Ogden, Utah, respectively, the weekly podcast started in June of 2018. The two met online, unsurprisingly, in a Pez chatroom, and have never actually met in person. Gage and Hansen boast listeners in almost a dozen countries and sometimes have guest appearances from fellow enthusiasts. In fact, the People of Pez are more the subject of the show than the actual dispensers or candy.
Asked why he’s such a fan of the candy and the dispensers, Hansen told a reporter, "PEZ is so just much fun. Everybody’s got a story from having PEZ when they were younger."
Listening to Hansen speak, you take in Pez-related trivia that only true aficionados would know, like how a collector in Michigan who brews beer in his free time, uses ground-up PEZ in the fermentation process. The podcast hosts have a catchy way of signing off as well: "Go out and dispense some good today."
Purchasing PEZ on stolen credit
While PEZ dispensers are a popular children’s toy, they’ve been associated with some legal issues as well. In Utah in 2019, police were searching for a man who’d racked up some $6,000 worth of charges on a credit card that he’d stolen from a fitness center (via KSL TV)
While the man’s first purchase, the most expensive computer available at Walmart, was a somewhat expected purchase for someone who’d stolen a credit card, his second purchase was slightly more outlandish. According to police in Orem, Utah, he bought "every limited edition PEZ dispenser" he could find at a local Walmart. One that he may have picked up was the Lord of the Rings gift set which features Gollum, Frodo, Gandalf, and five more characters for just under $40 (via Walmart).
Though the man was caught on surveillance footage, there haven’t been any developments in the case since it was initially reported. So if you know of anyone in the Orem, Utah area who has come into some limited edition PEZ dispensers lately, perhaps it’s best not to ask where they came from.