Whenever we visited my grandparents while I was growing up, my sister, brother, and I would each receive a little bag of M&Ms. I liked the red ones. Today, Linda Shenton Matchett shares the history of those delectable treats.
M&Ms and WWII
Most of us are old enough to remember that advertising slogan for the M&Ms, but few people know the origins of the hard-shell candy.
Franklin Mars started producing chocolates in his Tacoma, Washington kitchen in the early 1900s, then founded the Mars Candy Factory in 1911. By 1920, the company failed, and Frank returned to Minnesota where he tried his hand at candy production again. Success came slowly until the creation of the Milky Way bar in 1923, inspired by popular milkshakes of the time. The bar quickly became the best-selling bar on the market.
Frank’s son, Forrest, joined his father in the company, but by 1932 a disagreement about whether to take the company overseas caused a rift between the two men. Forrest allowed his father to buy him out, and he moved to England where he worked for Nestle and the Tobler Company.
In the days before refrigeration, the chocolate business slumped during the hot months of summer. Legend has it that Forrest encountered soldiers during the Spanish Civil War who were eating bits of chocolate covered in a sugar shell. Realizing he had found a solution to the heat issue, he returned to the U.S. and partnered with Bruce Murrie, son of Hershey executive William Murrie. The two quickly went to work and devised a manufacturing process for which they received a patent in 1941.
The candies, named M&M in honor of the two founders, were sold exclusively to the military during WWII as an item included in the troop’s ration packs. The candy was heat-resistant and easy to transport. No matter where the men were stationed, they could count on their chocolate being in factory fresh condition. By war’s end, the men were hooked and anxious to purchase the item on the civilian market. Needless to say, the Mars Company complied.
Today, Mars produced over 400 million M&Ms each day. The colors have changed, and variations offered (peanut, crispy, etc.), but M&Ms remain one of the most popular candy treats in the world.