Pez's Original Purpose Was Something Completely Different

The Pez dispenser just might be one of the most iconic toys and candy brands in history. These colorful gadgets are often adorned with the heads of familiar characters, like Kermit or Donald Duck, or cute animals. Invented by Austrian-born entrepreneur Eduard Haas III in 1927, Pez dispensers have around 1,400 different variations and characters, as of 2020 (via Smithsonian Magazine).

Pez candy are small tablets made from corn syrup and granulated sugar, which often come inside a plastic dispenser to distribute them, as described by Insider. Pez dispensers have enjoyed a fair amount of interest from fans, which has led to interesting creations like the world's largest Pez dispenser, as reported by Wired. (In 2007, it was located at the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia in Burlingame, California. It's topped by a snowman's head.)

But there's one thing some people may not know, and that's that Pez's original purpose was for something much different than what they're used for today. Those little candies were marketed to stop people from smoking (from Smithsonian Magazine). 

Pez was created as a way to get people to stop smoking

In general, smoking is probably not the best idea for many people's health. As said by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by up to 30 times more. And over time, various anti-smoking initiatives have popped up to reduce its glamorization. And the creator of Pez, Eduard Haas III, had the same idea. 

Pez was invented in 1927, according to Lemelson-MIT. But before Pez, Haas got his started in the baked goods business. He inherited his father's business, the Ed. Haas Company, which was founded primarily to sell a kind of baking powder that Eduard Haas II invented (from Smithsonian Magazine). 

Haas was also an anti-smoking advocate, so he used Pez as a way of discouraging people from smoking, as explained by Shawn Peterson in his book "PEZ: From Austrian Invention to American Icon." And this would continue until after the events of World War II. 

Pez's purpose shifted to toys after World War II

Wartime has a way of changing not just groups of people, but also culture and manufacturing. Sometimes the effects of war can affect unexpected things, like candy. And Pez was no different. After World War II, Haas and company wanted to design a Pez dispenser that would appeal more to adult smokers, so they came up with a casing that resembled a cigarette lighter. This ended up being called a Pez Box, and was created to try and stem smoking habits, as Lemelson-MIT relates.

Unfortunately, this did not go as well as Haas expected; sales did not hit so well in the adult market. This ultimately led the company to start appealing to children. By 1955, Pez had shifted its focus entirely toward children, creating dispensers with popular cartoon characters, along with fruit flavors like grape and citrus, according to "PEZ: From Austrian Invention to American Icon." And from there on, Pez became an iconic part of many childhoods. Sometimes the silliest things can have unexpected — and adult — origins.