I’m not even going to begin to explain what Pez candies are, or what Pez-mania is all about. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you could look it up, as Casey Stengel said.
At any rate, Pez dispensers have heads — yes, human heads — through which the little candies are dispensed. Did it ever occur to you to wonder where that idea came from? It never occurred to me, but now that I have read about Curtis Allina, whose obituary appeared in The New York Times on January 5, 2010, I sort of know.
Pez candies, mints, were invented in Austria in 1927. They were originally packaged in tins, then in “plain, long-stemmed dispensers meant to suggest cigarette lighters” because they were “marketed to adults as an alternative to smoking,” wrote Margalit Fox in the obituary. The product was introduced to the US in the early 50s and “sold fitfully.” Then “someone thought of remarketing it as a children’s candy, in fruit flavors, packed in whimsical dispensers.”
Apparently it is unknown who that “someone” was, but it is known that Curtis Allina — a Austrian concentration camp survivor who came to the US after WWII and worked as a meatpacker before joining the company Pez — was the man who persuaded the skeptical home office to take a chance. Ms. Fox quoted David Welch, a Pez historian: “The idea came from the United States. And for the idea to have come out of the United States and made it to Austria where it could be approved, Allina was the only guy who could have made that happen.”
Pez is a commercial success, and a cultural phenomenon, but Mr. Welch summed up the appeal of the story for me. Again quoted by Ms. Fox in the Times: “Whose idea was it? Who the hell knows. Who was more important in getting it done? Allina.”