Small quirky museums and roadside attractions are some of my favorite places to visit. Yes, the Met and the Louvre have the big-name art pieces, but I love stopping to see the ways that ordinary people have devised to entertain themselves and each other. Driving back to New York from New Haven gave me the chance to explore such a place.
Everyone remembers PEZ candy and their wonderful dispensers. What you might not know is that they are manufactured in the town of Orange, Connecticut, just west of New Haven. They are still producing those little pills and keeping their selection of characters up to date.
PEZ were first manufactured and sold in Austria by Eduard Haas III, and the HAAS family still controls 67% of the company today. The name PEZ came from the word PfeffErminZ, German for peppermint, which was the original flavor. The mints were sold in tins, similar to the way Altoids are today.
In the 1930’s the HAAS company began to sell dispensers that were similar in size and shape to cigarette lighters. In 1955 HAAS started selling new dispensers with the heads of cartoon characters on top, and a collectible fad was started.
Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse have been among the first available, and they are the best-selling characters of all time. Since the 1950’s over 1500 different characters have been produced and sold, and they remain up to date, with the newest offereings from Star Wars and Marvel, including the new Captain Marvel.
The PEZ Visitor Center is located at its the factory. The walls are lined with all things PEZ. In the lobby you are greeted with a wall displaying one copy of every PEZ dispenser ever created. As you walk through the center you will find a collection that takes you through the history of the candy. In one case are the many iterations of the Santa Claus dispensers, in another all of the Disney princesses. Keep looking and you will find every Batman, Joker and Catwoman.
You will even find a fully working PEZ motorcycle created by the guys at Orange County Choppers, known for their custom bikes and Discovery TV show. You can also take some time to look in on the factory floor, and on some days even have the opportunity to make some candies yourself.
Early PEZ advertisement
So, stop by the PEZ Visitors Center. It is a trip down memory lane. Find your favorite classic dispenser, and maybe a new one for you to take home.
Admission (price includes a $2 credit in the gift shop):
Adults $5; Children and seniors $4