Eduard Haas’ name may be unfamiliar to most people, but the case couldn’t be more different when it comes to his 1927 invention: Pez candy and the original Pez dispenser.
Born near Vienna, Austria in 1897, Haas was part of an enterprising family. His grandfather, Eduard Haas I, was a doctor and had created a new type of baking powder that was used to make cakes lighter. His son, Eduard Haas II, briefly attended medical school, but instead of going into the medical field, he opened and ran a thriving wholesale grocery business. Eduard III tried his hand at mixing some baking powder according to his grandfather’s recipe and thought that he’d attempt to sell it in his father’s store. His attempt was quite successful, which gave him the encouragement he needed to go into the confectionery business.
In the mid 1920s, Haas sought peppermint oil from a chemist to create what he intended to be a sophisticated, strong, cold-pressed peppermint candy. He called the tiny, sugar-based tablets, made brick-shaped for ease in machine-wrapping, “Pez,” short for “Pferrerminze,” the German word for peppermint. The candies were immediately popular among his friends and colleagues, and before long, he created attractive pocket-sized tins for packaging them. The Vienna-based Haas Food Manufacturing Corporation’s Pez candies were quite successful, at least locally, but Haas wanted more. He began to think of ways to market Pez to give the product broader appeal.
At that time, just after World War II, smoking had become very popular. Haas was an anti-smoking advocate. He thought his peppermints might appeal to those who may have been trying to quit, offering them something to put in their mouths instead of a cigarette, and at the same time, acting as a breath freshener. He decided that smokers were the perfect target market for Pez.
In 1947, Haas and his colleagues designed a Pez dispenser that looked very much like a cigarette lighter. This plastic gadget that dispensed one candy at a time was called a “Pez Box.” The dispenser made its debut a year later at the Vienna Trade Fair and was patented in 1949, under the title “Pocket Article Dispensing Container.” The product was, again, a success.
Up until this point, Haas and his company had been using adult themes and sexy “Pez girls” in their advertising to appeal to an adult market, but this wasn’t going to work when the company began exporting Pez candies to the United States in 1952. Children were the ones who seemed most interested in Pez, and so at first, sales were lackluster there.
Working out of his new U.S. base of operations for Pez in New York City, Haas began devising a marketing strategy that catered to children. Though somewhat reluctantly, he decided to take Pez into the realm of children’s toys. By 1955, the idea was cemented to put cartoon heads on the top of Pez dispensers and to introduce new fruit flavors designed for kids – lemon, orange, strawberry and, later, grape. Santa Claus, Popeye, and a space trooper are said to have been the earliest character heads placed on top of Pez packages. The “new Pez” was an immediate hit.
Bozo the Clown, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Mickey Mouse were among those that followed. Since the 1950s, hundreds of cartoon characters and historical figures have since made it to the top of Pez dispensers, many of them collectible. The product quickly sealed its place in pop culture history, and Haas became a very wealthy man.
In 1970, Pez Candy Inc. took over the Pez business from Haas and the Haas Food Manufacturing Corp. In 1972, the main plant was moved from New York, to Orange, Connecticut, where it remains today. Currently, Pez and Pez dispensers are sold in more than 80 countries.