M&M’s: A Once Military-Exclusive Treat

Retro Staff |  2 Comments
1940s M&M's Packaging

M&M's were originally packaged in tubes.

Some would say I’m an M&M’s connoisseur. Truth is, I know how to eat them… very well. My favorite M&M’s technique is to place 3-4 in my mouth and allow them to slowly melt on my tongue. Once all evidence of chocolate is gone, I quickly chew a few more, and repeat the two-step process. I’ve been known to go through large bags of M&M’s in a single day, which is why I now only buy the single serving size.

The introduction of the Ms. Brown character during this year’s Super Bowl made me realize that I spend much time with these adorable little candies, yet I know so little about them. I was thrilled to find a rich, American history behind the candies and the characters.

Forrest Mars, Sr. – founder of the Mars Company – came up with the idea for M&M’s in the 1930s when he saw soldiers in the Spanish Civil War eating chocolate pellets encased in a hard shell of tempered chocolate. This prevented the candies from melting in high temperatures. Mars was granted patent for his process in March 1941, and production began soonafter in Newark, New Jersey. The name of the candies represented Mars Sr. and Bruce Murrie, son of Hereshey’s Chocolate’s president, who owned 20% interest in the M&M product. Some references say that Mars needed Hershey’s help in order to gain a government contract while chocolate was being rationed during WWII. Others report Murrie helped finance the launch of the candies.

M&M's during WWII

Screenshot of an M&M's ad announcing the candies being exclusive to the US military during WWII. (source: M&M's official site)

Nonetheless, M&M’s were introduced to, and became a favorite of, American GIs serving in WWII. The candies were quickly included in C-rations and billboard ads changed, announcing that M&M’s were exclusive to the US military. Slogans included “Now Entirely at War” and “Now 100% at War”.

Fun Facts:

  • M&M’s were originally packaged in a tube. The brown wrapper we recognize today was not produced until 1948.
  • In 1950, a black “m” was imprinted on the candies. This was changed to white in 1954.
  • Peanut M&M’s were introduced in ’54, along with the famously known slogan: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand”. The peanut candies were initially only available in tan (re-mixed in 1960 in the colors yellow, red and green).
  • M&M’s continued to see increased popularity, forcing it to move to a much larger space in Hackettstown, New Jersey (1958).
  • In 1976, health concerns over Red #2 (the dye amaranth) prompted the company to replace red M&M’s with orange. The candies never contained Red #2 – the change was made to satisfy worried consumers. Red was re-introduced in 1987.
  • Despite great popularity in the US, it wasn’t until 1980 that M&M’s were introduced globally, and they soon became favorites in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and other places abroad.
  • Almond M&M’s were initially marketed, but withdrawn, in 1960. They were finally introduced in 1988.

M&M’s have been granted some great recognition, too. The candies went to space in 1982, and became the official snack food of the 1984 Olympics. In the 1990s, more than 10 million fans voted to add the color blue, and Colorworks was launched, allowing customers to customize mixes from 21 different colors. M&M’s World opened in Las Vegas in 1997, featuring a massive selection of candies and collectibles.

The 2000s brought us personalized, imprinted M&M’s, as well as the Mpire promotion that tied in with Star Wars. The candies became available in dark chocolate. In 2007, a 50-foot M&M “Statue of Liberty” was used in NYC Harbor to prompt people to create their own M&M’s characters online.

This year, Ms. Brown recycled the fandom by appearing in a TV commercial as a “naked” M&M. It was her first appearance since M&M’s were launched more than 70 years ago. She now has her own Twitter account. Yes, Ms. Green does, too, with more than 50,000 followers.

Check out this 1954 commercial, featuring the television debut of the now famous M&M’s characters. They looked quite different back then…

Today, M&M’s are a staple in Christmas stockings, Easter baskets, and are even used for favors and decorations at formal events (we had black and white ones at our wedding). Are you a fan of M&M’s? What’s your favorite kind and color?
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Last updated: Jun 22, 2012
Filed under: Retro Food and Recipes Tagged with: retro candy, WWII