The PEZ Girl

Retro Staff |  Comments

The PEZ GirlAs a child growing up in the 1980s, I remember PEZ candy mostly for the dispensers.  Although the flavor of the candies ranged from cherry to sour pineapple, the range of different types of PEZ dispensers was even larger.  There were hundreds of models, and not only did people use them to dispense candy, they collected them.

Back then, I thought PEZ was a candy marketed for children and people who loved to collect the dispensers.  In actuality, PEZ started out as a candy marketed to adults, specifically smokers.

PEZ was created by Edward Haas in 1927 in Vienna, Austria.  At that time, there was no such thing as a peppermint candy.  Oil of peppermint was sold by chemists, and Haas used this oil to create a new candy with a peppermint flavor.  The name PEZ comes from the German word for peppermint, PfeffErminZ. Haas Food Manufacturing Corporation of Vienna, Austria, was the first to sell PEZ candies.

To market the new compressed peppermint candies, PEZ concentrated on the adult population.  Print ads and signs were used, and the advertising featured the lovely PEZ girls. Created by artists such as Manasee, the girls used subtle hints of sexuality – large eyes, a warm smile, and a welcoming attitude – to sell the candies.

PEZ candies were first sold in tin containers, and were marketed as luxury candies that freshened the breath.  In the late 1940s, PEZ came out with pocket-sized dispenser.  It was considered a sexier way to carry and eat the candy, and the dispensers resembled the size and shape of a cigarette lighter.  In this way, PEZ was marketed as an alternative to smoking, all the while looking smooth and sophisticated.

Gerhard Brause PEZ Girl

Many attribute the success of PEZ candies to Gerhard Brause’s illustrations in the ’50s. Most PEZ ads did not show below the waist – even PEZ thought this illustration was too sexy and future illustrations were from the waist up.

In the 1950s post-war atmosphere, pin-up girls enjoyed a new interest in their marketing skills, and sexy ads for all different products began to appear.  PEZ was no exception.  The PEZ girl lost her dowdy gray jacket and replaced it with a royal blue one.

PEZ ads became more sexual in nature. A new graphic artist named Gerhard Brause was hired to redesign the PEZ girl to fit modern times and ideals.  Some say his ads were the reason PEZ became so successful.  Very bright colors were used, and the women always had a large smile on their faces.  Featured in the ads were the endowments of the women as well as the candies.  Chests were accentuated, but in all but one of the ads, their legs were not shown.  There was only one ad showing the entire PEZ girl, but it was considered too sexy even for PEZ standards.  From then on, the PEZ girl was shown only from the waist up.

In 1952, PEZ broadened their market to include the US.  Although the PEZ girls were used to advertise in America, the focus group now included children.  PEZ began manufacturing dispensers with character heads in 1955, which appealed to children and collectors alike.

In the 1960s, PEZ still used print art and ads to market their candies, and the PEZ girl got another makeover.  She had a mod look, complete with a new hairdo and eyes that were made up in the style of the times.  Some say she resembled Jackie Kennedy.

In the 1970s, painted print ads were not as popular as they used to be, and PEZ began using photographic ads to sell their candies.  The “girl next door” look was everywhere, and the PEZ girl had the glow of the 1950s pin-up girl, with the youthful appearance of a high school cheerleader.  Her hair was windblown, her smile was infectious, and she radiated health and vitality.

It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s that PEZ began to concentrate on marketing the dispensers.  Since the ’50s, hundreds of characters have appeared as PEZ dispensers – according to PEZ, there have been more than 1,500 dispensers manufactured – and they are a hot commodity to collect and trade. Marketing of the candy by itself is nowadays scarce.

Collecting PEZ dispensers has become an expensive hobby for some. Some of the early dispensers have reportedly been sold for thousands of dollars. Each year, dozens of conventions worldwide attract PEZ enthusiasts.

Some interesting facts about PEZ:

  • The 1949 motto was “No smoking – PEZing allowed”.
  • There were some 4,000 PEZ vending machines built from the ’50s to the ’80s.
  • PEZ says E.T. proved itself as the most commercial featured film, reportedly causing a big boost in sales for the company.
  • Despite some still taking credit for eBay being founded in an effort to find a way to collect PEZ dispensers, more notable sources say the story is fabricated. Nonetheless, the tale helped PEZ stay in the spotlight during some of its most dormant years (late ’90s).
  • PEZ dispensers didn’t get “heads” until 1962. The first contract was for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

Despite dozens of candy flavors, the popularity of PEZ continues to be mostly due to the dispensers, and each year dozens of conventions take place worldwide.

Do you like PEZ? Or are you more of a dispenser junkie than a candy lover?


Last updated: Jan 02, 2009
Filed under: Retro Characters Tagged with: advertising, candy, pinups