Pez was invented in 1927 by Eduard Haas III, a Viennese food-products mogul. Small, rectangular and mint-flavored (the name is a contraction of pfefferminz, the German word for peppermint), the candy was marketed to adults as an alternative to smoking. Originally sold in tins, Pez was repackaged in the late 1940s in plain, long-stemmed dispensers meant to suggest cigarette lighters, according to a story in The New York Times.
Introduced into the United States in the early 1950s, Pez sold fitfully. Then someone thought of remarketing it as a children’s candy, in fruit flavors, packed in whimsical dispensers. It fell to Curtis Allina to persuade the home office in Vienna, by all accounts a conservative outfit that took sober pride in its grown-up mint.
Allina prevailed, and the first two character dispensers, Santa Claus and a robot known as the Space Trooper, were introduced in 1955. Unlike today’s plain-stemmed, headed-and-footed dispensers, both were full-body figures, completely sculptured from top to toe.
Driven in large part by baby-boomer nostalgia, Pez dispensers are now a staple of eBay and the ubiquitous subject of conventions, Web sites, newsletters, books and even a museum, the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia in Burlingame, Calif.
They have been featured in movies; a memorable “Seinfeld” episode (in which Elaine ruins a piano recital by laughing uncontrollably at the sight of a Pez dispenser); and a 2006 documentary, “PEZheads: The Movie,” which explores the Pez-collecting phenomenon.
Allina died Dec. 15 at his home in Olympia, Wash. He was 87.
Photo by Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia.