March of the PEZ Dispencers

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PEZ came to the United States in 1952, and they were an immediate bomb. At first, they were sold in tins, not unlike today's Altoids. Then, in a effort to promote hygiene, the manufacturer introduced dispensers that looked a bit like disposable cigarette lighters. They still wouldn't sell.

But then, in a stroke of genius, company executives rethought their product. They put cute heads on the dispensers and decided that they were now selling to children. Some of the early models featured Mickey Mouse and cost about 29 cents. They're now the sort of items that are auctioned by Christie's.

"I don't try to explain the phenomenon," says Scott McWhittie, who describes himself as the PEZident of the company. "They're the collectors. We're the manufacturers."

But McWhittie realizes what a powerhouse he has. It's hard to find another children's product that is recognizable by 98 percent of mothers. Some sources estimate that Americans consume 3 billion little PEZ candies annually. But don't bother asking McWhittie.

"We're privately held. We don't give away trade secrets," he says. "Good luck finding out."

Eau de PEZ

The PEZ folks are quite conservative with their brand. If you've seen Elvis, Pee Wee Herman or Monica Lewinsky on a PEZ, it's unauthorized, just like the Hitler mentioned above. In fact, only two humans have ever been enshrined as candy dispensers — Daniel Boone and Betsy Ross.

But the company has opened up its licensing channels in recent years. If you rush out to the supermarket now, you'll see four new PEZ dispensers in General Mills cereals — the Trix Rabbit; Lucky the Leprechaun from Lucky Charms; Sonny the Cuckoo Bird from Cocoa Puffs; and BuzzBee, the mascot for Honey Nut Cheerios.

And in a more bizarre move, there will soon be a PEZ perfume. A small Florida perfume company has signed a five-year deal to make and distribute PEZ brand perfumes and bath products.

"We're not looking at candy [scents] — at least not at this point," fragrance entrepreneur Frank Buttacavoli told last year. "We're looking at quality fragrances you'd be proud to wear."