M&Ms: A Crunchy, Colorful History
Have you seen the news? Despite all the craziness going on around the world, what with wars, climate changes, and pandemics, M&Ms somehow managed to snag a fair share of headlines lately. That’s right – M&Ms. The candy that’s been around so long, and that has become so familiar on store shelves, that we don’t usually think twice about them. Unless you’re me. I think twice about them. I think about them every day – in large part due to the giant M&Ms dispenser in my house (see photo). My husband got it for me for my birthday last year, because M&Ms have long since held a top spot on my favorite candies list. And their recent hijinks and Superbowl publicity stunts (ornery little things!) only made me like them even more.
So as I happily crunched on my latest pack of the sweet, rounded little goodies (strawberry shake flavored. Mmmm), I got to thinking. And you all know what happens when I get to thinking. Yep. That’s right. I decided it was time to take a look at the history of M&Ms and find out how it all began. To learn how these candies went from quietly accompanying soldiers in World War II (I always find an excuse to mention that) to starring in their own movies and dive-bombing their way into the headlines. And I have to tell you, it’s kind of a fun story.
M&Ms came into the world thanks to a gentleman named Forrest E. Mars. While traipsing around the Spanish Civil War battlefields in the 1930s (not the safest place to traipse, but that’s a whole other post I suppose), Mars saw some Brits snacking on a button-shaped and delightfully colored candy they referred to as “smarties.” A primitive version of what would be the M&M, “smarties” were chocolates coated in a hard shell, using a process then-referred to as “hard panning.” This consisted of hardening sugar syrup and coating it around chocolate, which helped prevent the delicious goodies from melting in hot spots. Like a civil war, for example.
Mars was so taken by the idea that when he returned to the United States, he patented his own process of hard-panning, built himself a candy factory in New Jersey, and put it into production in 1941. A Mammoth&Monumental (ha! See what I did there) undertaking, so he brought on a few helpers. One being Hershey’s chocolate –pretty much essential to any project involving chocolate. Especially given the strict rations on chocolate at the time (thanks to… World War II! I mentioned it again!). With Hershey at his side, Mars founded M&M Limited chocolate factory – with one M representing himself, and the other representing Bruce Murrie – son of Hershey’s owner William F.R. Murrie.
Almost as soon as they went into production, M&M Limited got one heck of a customer – the US Army. Like so many others at the time, they were taken with the idea of a sweet treat that soldiers could take into tropical climates without it melting. So they bought up… well, most of the inventory. In fact, throughout World War II (my last mention, I promise), the newly branded “M&Ms” were sold exclusively to the US Military. And believe me, they were a smash. Word quickly spread about the delicious little chocolates and their thin candy shell, and demand back home exploded. Especially after the fan favorite Peanut M&M was introduced in 1954.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, M&Ms became the toast of the town and Mars ended up moving his factory to a much bigger location in Newark. However, even those large holds were soon bursting with colorful M&Ms, and he ended up building a second factory in Tennessee to take on some of the load. While business always seemed to be booming, M&Ms would launch to all new heights in the 1980s.
Heights like outer space. Mars must have felt “out of this world” when in 1981, his M&M candies were chosen by the first US Space Shuttle mission to be included in their snack supplies. He must have been further elated when the Olympics, in 1984, made M&Ms (both the plain and the peanut versions) part of their “official snack foods of the Olympics.” With those two priceless pieces of endorsement, M&Ms went global late in the 1980s, and soon, people all over the world were snacking on and enjoying those shell-coated chocolate candies.
By the 1990s, M&Ms were an American staple, seen all over the place (like the NASCAR race track starting in 1999) and even getting mentions in some of the iconic movies of the decade (Like Tommy Boy! “They have a thin candy shell! Surprised you didn’t know that…”). So I suppose it makes sense that this was the time for M&Ms to really start shaking things up. Does anyone remember 1995? Back then, the colors of the M&Ms looked slightly different. There was a tan M&M, and M&Ms gave us all a jolt when they announced they would be doing away with the tan and replacing it with blue. They also started bringing on a host of new flavors – with peanut butter being a real crowd pleaser. There also came M&Ms to mark certain holidays – like red/green mint M&Ms for Christmas (and does anyone remember when they were stamped with a Christmas tree?), and pastel-colored goodies filled with almonds for Easter.
But the biggest change for M&Ms in the 1990s was the introduction of the beloved spokescandies, with the original crew being red, yellow, blue, and green. Each one was given distinct character traits as well as a personalized style and look. The first time I really remember seeing the characters in action was the famous commercial, aired around the holidays, when the red and yellow M&Ms meet Santa. “He does exist!” The red M&M cries. “They do exist…” Santa gasps in return. Then both parties pass out. Classic.
From then on, the spokescandies were a phenomenon. They’ve appeared in hosts of other commercials, have starred in their own short films, and done their own comedy routines. I’ve encountered Spokescandy mascots running around in Las Vegas (Hello, Ms. Green!) and Los Angeles, in addition to them having a heavy presence at any M&Ms World Store. They’ve also had new friends join the gang – Orange, Purple, and Brown.
Along with shaking up their advertising campaign, M&Ms also started really shaking up their flavors. By the 2000s, it seemed that “anything goes” became the motto as all kinds of bizarre flavors started entering the fold. Toffee, Mocha, Brownie Batter. Cherry, Mint, Cookie. Pretzel, Caramel, and Key Lime. I once spotted a popcorn flavored bag of M&Ms. There’s even a candy corn flavor that comes out around Halloween, which you won’t hear me complaining about (click here). Although, I think the biggest favorite for my husband and me was cherry. They released it at Valentine’s Day one year and we went through about three bags of them. We were devastated when, despite all our high hopes, cherry was a limited edition that was never put on store shelves again. I think the only place you can get it is M&Ms World, and I don’t exactly have easy access to that anymore.
M&Ms have also begun interacting with the public a lot – inviting people to create their own personalized M&Ms through their website. You can choose your own colors, packaging, and what image you want to appear on the hard candy shell. They’ve also started polling the public when it comes to new flavors and colors. People really get into it too. When it came time to release a new color in 2002, over ten million people worldwide responded to a public vote on the issue – choosing between aqua, pink, and purple (purple was the undisputed champ).
In the here and now, M&Ms continue to make a colorful splash wherever they go. Whether it’s trolling us all with the stupidest publicity stunt ever, or continuing to wow us with crazy and creative new flavors (like the Strawberry Shake flavor that I’m STILL eating as I write this. Come pry it out of my hands, I beg you). M&Ms have certainly woven their way into the fabric of our hearts, and I think it’s safe to say they’re here to stay. And I’m glad the spokescandies are back. I can’t quite imagine an M&Ms World without them!
M&Ms Official Website
I enjoy writing about the history of sweets! You can find more sugary goody articles by clicking here, here, and here.
NOTE: I want to thank everyone who reached out to me after my last post with your thoughts and good vibes. I really, really appreciate it and it means a lot! Unfortunately, the universe seems to have declared open season on me – the latest being a tumble down the stairs, laying me up with a nasty sprain in my foot/ankle. So once again… apologies for being a bit behind on my blogging! But the good news is lots of friends gave me M&Ms to cheer me up over the last few months. So yum. 🙂 Be safe out there everyone!
Looking for a read to celebrate Women’s History Month? I sincerely invite you to check out my novel – “All the Lights Above Us” – a story of D-Day, told from the perspective of five different women of different ages and backgrounds. Learn more about it here.
OK you hang on there a cotton pickin’ minute missy. Smarties are most certainly not a primitive version of M&M’s. They are the crème de la crème of crispy shelled chocolate. The original and best. And they don’t need any fancy pants spokescandies banging on, they’ve been sold since 1937 and still going strong without any of that malarkey. I grew up on them 🤣. Next time you’re in Canada pick up a tube of them, you’ll never want an M&M again 🤣🤣
A Smarty Addict.
HAHA! Looks like we have another political hot potato for M&Ms here!!! 🙂 🙂 I’ll just be sitting here with my M&M dispenser, eating more M&Ms than I should, and I shall think about what I have DONE!
🤣🤣🤣 buy smarties, you know you want to try them now!
NEVER!!!! Just kidding. Send me some! 🙂
I remember Smarties being hard, fruit-flavored discs that I got in rolls in my Halloween bag. Must be something entirely different with the same name.
That’s the US version of smarties! 🙂 Which I also love!
Love the M&M’s story. I can’t find the Pretzel M&Ms anymore, maybe I’m not looking hard enough. Hope you get back on both feet very soon.
I’ve seen them at Target!! Hurry hurry! 🙂 And yes, I hope my sprain heals quickly. And I hope I can stay out of trouble for awhile too.
An outstanding history of M&M’s, MB! I’m not much of a candy eater, but I might have to reconsider if you write more blog posts like this. 🙂 Hope your foot and ankle heal soon!
Oh do reconsider. Sometimes life just needs to be a little sweeter! 🙂
I love M&M’s and now I know the history behind the candy. So sorry about your ankle. 😏
Yes I’m afraid it means I will have to postpone our hike for a bit! As it’s just a sprain instead of a break (thank GOD – I really thought it broke when I fell), I’m hoping it will heal up quickly!
Not a problem. Definitely don’t want to rush the healing process. 😊
Yeah I don’t want to mess around with my feet! Kind of important!
Interested! Now I will look at an M&M with more respect😊
Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
I have a friend who is a die-hard M&M fan, MB. So I am always on the look out for M&M memorabilia. When Peggy and I were on the road to Alaska a few years back with Linda and her husband Bob (my friend of 74 years), we even found an M&M bank to add to her collection.
Yes, I have also been to the M&M store in Las Vegas. But my latest M&M encounter was on the highway that connects Cairo, Egypt to Alexandria, Egypt where I was a week or so ago. Peggy and I had stopped for lunch at a restaurant and what did we find, an M&M sign of a girl M&M looking come-hither-ish. I photographed it to share with Linda. 🙂 –Curt
Ha! How cool Curt!! And wow Egypt! I’ve always wanted to visit there! Did you post pictures? I’ve been a bit laid up again and hope I didn’t miss them if you did!
M&M’s are the best. Sorry about your ankle. Heal fast!
Thank you! 🙂
More than I ever knew about them…my granddaughter Ella is already a believer in their yummyness…
Hahaha good! Start them young! 🙂
Sorry MB, it’s Smarties all the way, none of your fancy advertising or stuffing about with fillings. Not trying to start World War three (see what I did there) but as a kid who grew up on Smarties they are still numero uno. I am surprised I didn’t see the “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand” in this piece. A good slogan from 1954!!!
You do look a bit dangerous on that little scooter thing and the basket doesn’t have any M&M’s in it….disappointing 😂
That’s two of us then!
Boy I have sure sparked some fun debate with this post! And to think I used to shy away from that 🙂 🙂 🙂 As far as the picture goes… I have failed you. 🙁
Love this story! Thanks for a fun read.
You are quite welcome – thanks for reading!
I like M&Ms, but have always been more of a fan of fruity candies than chocolates. Though I certainly won’t turn my nose up at chocolates! The Santa commercial truly is a classic.
Oh I’m not one to shy away from fruity candies! Or mint candies. Or cinnamon candies. Or chocolate candies. You see where this is going…. 🙂
I do like me some sugar, too! Unfortunately, it has started making my teeth ache.
Yeah, I hear that!
Mmmm. I love me some m&ms. Haven’t ventured too far into the crazy flavors, though. It would be awfully hard to top the peanut butter ones.
Agreed. The caramel ones are another favorite of mine.
Ooooh I still remember the tagline “Smartie people are happy people” from my childhood.
BTW, you should investigate the controversy surrounding the Blue Smarties
*gasp* I used to shy away from controversy, but I have sparked some with this article! 🙂 Perhaps I WILL look into it. Thanks for sharing the ad too, how cute!
Coupla years back the manager of a pharmacy let me have the red M&M display figure ( first picture) for $20. I still have it. Everyone should have at least one fine sculpture in their house.
HA!! That’s a mazing Carl! $20 wow, I’m not sure how much mine cost since my husband bought it, but something tells me he spent more than $20 on it! Agree about the sculpture too 🙂
Thanks for sharing the history of M&Ms with us. Now I want to go out a buy a big bag of each flavor!
That might take you awhile! They have so many flavors now! But I recommend the Key Lime and the Cherry!
Fun and informative post – still I gotta stick up for the original and still the best, Smartie. And I never realised the Mars Bar was named after an actual person, I thought it was a space exploration reference.
I’m glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂 🙂 And don’t worry, you have many allies in the Smarties camp, as I’m sure you’ve seen in the other comments 🙂 🙂
I love these Mammoth & Monumental candies! Thanks for sharing their history. I hear if you freeze them and use them like an ice pack, they help reduce swelling in sprained ankles. 😉
Good tip about the ice pack. According to my recent research, eating M&Ms while injured definitely provides a mood boost at the very least 🙂
Sometimes I worry about myself. I never in my life have seen the M&M ‘spokescandies.’ I didn’t even know they exist. Clearly, there are unintended consequences to life without television!
I always loved M&Ms, but at some point in the past I stopped eating them; it seemed to me that the quality of the chocoate declined. Beyond that, the appearance of blue M&Ms just seemed weird — like blue Gatorade. When I think of ‘blue’ and ‘food,’ I think of mold, like the sort that appears on bread.
All that aside, I really enjoyed this history — and the introduction to sorts of M&Ms I’ve never heard of!
WOW! That’s impressive you’ve never seen them. They do a pretty good job of being seen and heard, especially these days LOL 🙂 Also good for you on life without television. I barely watch any TV anymore, but I do watch a lot of movies 🙂 I can also understand about the blue – plus it does tend to leave the most dye behind when eaten, which is never fun. Glad you enjoyed the post and it’s always nice hearing from you! 🙂
A fascinating story that I didn’t know!
I thought I remember a time in maybe the early 70s when red M&Ms disappeared for awhile after red dye #2 got into trouble with the Feds.
Did you come across the folklore that green M&Ms are supposed to boost the libido? I wonder how things like that get started.
There is usually a jar with bags of the peanut variety (my fave) at my office. Now I want some.
While doing research for this article, I think I do remember stumbling on something about the red dye, but I didn’t include it because there was a lot of conflicting information. The green is news to me though, never heard of that! How interesting! Peanut M&Ms are one of my faves as well 🙂
Was it a whole bottle of Pinot Noir?? You need to have an excellent reason for falling down the stairs, MB. 😊 Hope you feel much better soon. Loved your post about M & M s – I really like them but not as much as Smarties which are the British equivalent. Occasionally I see them in the ‘foreign’ aisle in the supermarket but imported chocolate often tastes stale.
Our hairdresser has a snack bowl and I always sneak a pack of peanut M & M s.
Smarties have a lot of fans on this post – you are certainly not alone 🙂 I remember trying them once and not liking them as much as M&Ms, but maybe I need to give them another try as an adult. As for the stairs, well, I have no excuse. My ankle rolled and I lost my balance, that’s about the sum of it. Luckily, in the biggest dose of irony ever, I was carrying a bag of pillows (true story!) so I landed on the pillows and didn’t crack any ribs or anything! So it could have been much, much worse but for those adorable spring pillows for the couch.
Thank goodness you were carrying the pillows! On the rare occasions that I eat British chocolate, I notice it tastes too sweet. I love dark chocolate for a treat.
When we were kids, my dad used to tell us wild things to see if we believed him. For many years, I firmly believed that he worked at the M&M factory making sure every piece had an m on it. He didn’t work there anymore because he got fired for eating all the w’s.
I’m sure he stole that joke from a movie, but I was 6 years old, so I loved it. Still do!
LOL that’s so cute!! 🙂 What a fun story thanks for sharing!
There’s an enormous M&M store in Times Square. I didn’t go in but they allegedly sell every flavor. You might look it up (and stock up) if you’re ever there. These happy little candies freeze well too.
And randomly, I had totally forgotten the tan M&M and the hullabaloo over Blue. This was a fun walk down memory lane!
🙂 I had almost forgotten the change to blue myself until I was researching for this article! 🙂 And I haven’t been to the NYC M&Ms world, but when I lived in CA, I used to visit the one in Vegas often enough. They do indeed have sooooo many flavors! And they did have the cherry! Sadly, I live pretty far away now 🙁
That’s such a sad story. I don’t recall cherry but will have to try them if I ever get a chance!
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A sweet post with lots of tasy tidbits, MB. Thank you for sharing.
Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
This was such a cool read. And by the way… Peanut M&Ms FOR LIFE!!!
They are definitely one of my favorites! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post
I just love m&ms!
Me too! 🙂 Thanks so much for reading!
These yummy smarties..
Wonderful history of M&Ms, M.B. Interesting too with WWII, Space Shuttle, Nascar and the Olympics. We Americans love our M&Ms and it goes way back. Thanks for this fun post. (And I’m glad you’re doing better, M.B.)
We sure do love our M&Ms! I just got a caramel cold brew flavor that is oh so good 🙂 Thanks for reading!
Oh no! Sorry to hear about your injury. Although I’m glad there were M&M’s to help you through. Are you still on the mend?
My foot/ankle is still a bit messed up, but I can walk and put weight on it now – I’m even back in the gym, I just have to be a little careful. Hopefully it won’t be long before I can do hikes and long walks again!
Delightfully yummy read, MB. I’m partial to peanut, but will happily eat plain. Hope by now you’re back on your feet! 🤗
The dark chocolate ones are probably my favorite, but I have plenty of plain and peanut ones in my home collection 🙂 And I am doing a little better, thanks! My foot is still a bit messed up but I’m walking real well and even back in the gym!
What a fun post. Thanks for sharing the results of your sweet research, M.B.
I guess I’m boring, as I like the peanut version best.
Peanut is actually one of my favorites too! 🙂 🙂
Very interesting M.B.I have always wondered when they arrive in Auss because I first noticed them when I returned from a stint living in the UK , I don’t recall trying them but as you have such a high regard for them I will keep an rye out and give them a go.
Oh please do! And be sure to let me know what your favorite kind is! 🙂
Will do 👍🏻
I love this post! So many things I never knew. I remember M and Ms coming to the uk and the tagline was they melt in your mouth not in your hand. We haven’t got as many varieties as you guys but it’s growing! Cutely, my eldest son used to call them lemonade 😂 or yemonade as he couldn’t say L sound. X
Lemonade haha that’s cute! 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! And I hope you enjoy some M&Ms that definitely can melt in your hand sometimes if you leave them there too long! 🙂
Interesting, enjoyable post!
Glad you enjoyed it – thanks for reading!