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Passionate PEZ Ponderings

I grew up with PEZ and I absolutely loved it. It combines two things kids go nuts about: toys and candy! Although PEZ is available in most European countries, including the Netherlands, it’s not as ubiquitous or part of pop culture as it is in the US and several other countries, like its country of origin Austria and surrounding countries like Germany and (the former) Yugoslavia.

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My modest PEZ collection

PEZ is first and foremost candy, but the genious of PEZ is the PEZ dispenser. A PEZ dispenser can be filled with a full roll of PEZ candy and there’s a spring mechanism inside that allows you to pop out one piece of candy at a time by simply flipping back the head of the dispenser. Pure.. fricking.. genious.

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A PEZ dispenser in action

“The History Of PEZ”

The PEZ candy was invented way back in 1927 in Austria by a guy called Eduard Haas III and lends its name to the original flavour the candy came in, which is peppermint. Peppermint in German is “Pfefferminz” and the name PEZ is distilled from the first, middle and last letter of that very word. Haas positioned the PEZ candy as an alternative to smoking. Back then the candy did not come in the famous mechanical dispensers it is known for today. It was not until 1948 when the first mechanical PEZ dispensers were invented and appropriately enough looked like cigarette lighters!

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PEZ introduced in the US – cigarette lighter style dispenser

1952 was another milestone for PEZ, which is when the brand was introduced to the US and shortly thereafter another stoke of genius followed in 1955, which is when it was decided to market PEZ to children by creating PEZ dispensers that would appeal to kids. Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse dispensers marked some of the first in a long line of playful PEZ dispensers that were created ever since and besides peppermint various new flavours of PEZ candy were introduced. In 1973 PEZ opened their US office in Orange, Connecticut, which is where the US branch is still located today.

US PEZ office – Orange, Connecticut

“Childhood Memories Of PEZ”

My strong childhood memories of PEZ are due to the fact that my parents were originally Yugoslav immigrant workers that came to the Netherlands in the early 1970′s. I was born and bred in Holland and I love this country to bits, but whenever summer vacation came around in the early years of my life (the 1980′s) my parents, my little sister and I would travel to sunny Yugoslavia for the summer to visit relatives and that was a blast!

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PEZ in Yugoslavia

Contrary to what a lot of people think, Yugoslavia was definitely not behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War in the 20th century and it was not a puppet state of the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia was a non-aligned country and even founded the Non-Aligned Movement of countries which still exists today. Yugoslavia was accessible to anyone who wanted in without a visa and Yugoslavs were free to leave the country at will. PEZ was big in Yugoslavia. It was everywhere. Seemingly at every street corner there was a kiosk (a newsstand) and my mom would always buy me the latest comics and PEZ! I fondly remember sitting on the doorstep of our former vacation home in Yugoslavia in the hot beating sun with blue skies overhead, reading Dylan Dog horror comics and guzzling away copious amounts of PEZ candy. Good times!

“PEZ keeps on truckin’!”

The reason why PEZ was so popular in Yugoslavia is relatively simple. In the 1960s PEZ expanded its production into Yugoslavia (in what is now Slovenia), which was a neighbouring country to Austria, the home of PEZ. A production line was created in Ormož, where dispensers were manufactured, and in Ljubljana where the candy was manufactured by Yugoslav food and drug manufacturer Kolinska. Production from Yugoslavia was exported worldwide but also introduced the PEZ brand in the former Yugoslav republics now known as Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia. This working relationship fell apart in the early 1990′s, which is when the Yugoslav wars broke out and the country was shattered into the six different states we know today.

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PEZ Yugoslavia truck dispenser ad (1982)

The Disney PEZ dispensers were very popular and I remember owning loads of those, but my absolute favourites were the PEZ trucks! Another stroke of PEZ genius if you ask me. Instead of putting a head on the dispenser, a truck cabin was fitted and wheels were added to the dispenser. Again… genius! I loved these PEZ trucks.

“My PEZ Summer Of 1983″

Back in the early 1980′s an average Dutch income was several multitudes of an average Yugoslav income, so whenever we visited there stuff was dirt cheap. PEZ was nowhere to be found in the Netherlands, so right before we headed back to Holland in the summer of 1983 I remember I went into one of the local grocery stores in my dad’s home town and bought a shit load of PEZ candy. I remember the lady behind the counter being horrified at the amount of cash I plunked down on the counter. She had to go back into storage to get all the PEZ that I wanted. I had cleaned the store stock out completely. I went home with four plastic bags full of PEZ candy still wrapped inside their factory counter display cases. I was in heaven.

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I ate tons of this shit when I was 8 years old

Thinking back now as an adult I have mixed emotions about the gratuitous amounts of PEZ I bought that day, but I did share a lot of the candy with my friends there, so it was not entirely unaltruistic. When we returned home to Holland I had mountains of PEZ left, but that stack only lasted me a few weeks. I was a PEZ addict and had nowhere to go for my next fix. Kicking the habit cold turkey was my only way out. :-)

“PEZ in Holland”

I’ve seen PEZ here and there in Holland since the 1990′s, but the candy and dispensers were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they were in Yugoslavia. The first time I saw PEZ in Holland was somewhere in the early 90′s during a hospital visit. The St. Franciscus hospital in Roosendaal had a little gift shop and that’s where I spotted PEZ in Holland for the first time. I don’t remember the dispenser that came with the candy, but I do remember the candy didn’t taste as good as it did in Yugoslavia.

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PEZ! PEZ! PEZ!

“PEZ in the USA”

Now the US is a different story. There PEZ has been around since the 1950′s and has become a part of pop culture. Countless PEZ dispensers have been created ranging from anything Disney, Star Wars, Marvel to DC, Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. Think of anything pop culture and chances are there’s a PEZ dispenser for that. Brilliant!

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PEZ Spaceman dispenser

Imagine my delight when I visited the US for the first time late last year. My girlfriend and I visited the local Walmart store and PEZ was all around! I picked up a Batman and Catwoman PEZ dispenser and a Walmart Exclusive Star Trek: The Next Generation 25th Anniversary PEZ set! Check out the Star Trek set below. How cool is that!

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PEZ – Star Trek The Next Generation: 25th anniversary – Walmart exclusive

I don’t consider myself to be a real PEZ collector, but I will pick up any cool PEZ dispenser whenever I come across them anywhere on this planet. And with these amazing PEZ gift sets that are being released in the US, it’s just hard to not to pick them up. I mean, just look at this awesome Lord of the Rings set, which is very high on my wish list:

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PEZ – Lord of the Rings set

“Gallery”

That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this little look at what is an 85-year-old funky piece of candy! Please enjoy some photos of my very modest PEZ collection below and see you next week. Have a great weekend! :-)

“Credits”

  • Hello Kitty PEZ dispenser photo by Deborah Austin – used under CC-BY 2.0 license
  • Lord of the Rings PEZ set photo by Chris Pirillo – used under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 license
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