Take a Peek at a 14 Foot Tall PEZ Dispenser
A Magical Connecticut Candyland: Inside the PEZ Visitor Center in Orange
PEZ has had its thumb on the pulse of American pop culture for over half a century. At the PEZ Visitor Center in Orange, CT, curious visitors and PEZ aficionados alike can explore this vibrant history and enjoy some sweet treats.
The PEZ Visitor Center sees about 75,000 visitors each year, hailing from all fifty states and over fifty countries. Guests can learn about the history of PEZ, view PEZ-themed exhibits, and visit the factory store. “I think that people are surprised by just how long PEZ has been a brand,” says Shawn Peterson, Direct to Consumer Business Manager. “PEZ was created in 1927 by Eduard Haas, an Austrian candy maker. They were actually created as an alternative to smoking.”
Orange, CT is also home to the PEZ factory, which curious guests can view right from the Visitor Center. “We’re the only PEZ factory in North America,” Peterson explains. “Daily, we produce twelve million tablets and one million rolls of PEZ. We’re open forty-eight weeks of the year, so that adds up to billions of PEZ annually.” 2,880,000,000 tablets of PEZ annually, to be exact, which come in a variety of flavors ranging from the standard cherry and lemon to the more adventurous sour pineapple and mango.
Of course, PEZ wouldn’t be PEZ without the famous dispensers, which come in over 1500 varieties and are often highly sought-after collectors’ items. “The dispensers came about in the 1940s," Peterson explains. "When Haas first created PEZ, it was sold in foil wrappers or in tins. When you wanted to share your PEZ with someone, they had to stick their fingers in the tin. Haas thought this was really unhygienic, and so he hired a freelance inventor, Oscar Uxa, to come up with a better way. Uxa came up with the PEZ dispenser, which was patented in 1949 and came to the United States in 1952.”
Not just anything can make it onto a PEZ dispenser. “There’s a saying that you’re not really famous until you’re on a PEZ dispenser,” Peterson says. “We try to figure out what’s popular, but some things don’t make sense. We’re doing this for the long-run, so things have to be iconic and we have to be really selective about the subjects we choose. We have to look into the crystal ball and try to predict, say, what the summer blockbuster will be in 2018.”
The Visitor Center is also home to the world’s largest PEZ dispenser. “The dispenser is fourteen feet tall,” Peterson explains. “It’s the first thing you see when you walk into the main space. There’s a remote control that visitors can press that makes the dispenser’s head go back and the tablet pops out.”
The title of world’s largest PEZ candy, however, is still up for grabs. “As far as I know, no one has ever tried to make a PEZ candy that fits into our dispenser,” Peterson says. “But the dispenser is functional, at least in theory.”
The Visitor Center is celebrating its fifth anniversary in December 2016, and for Peterson, this is a remarkable professional and personal achievement. Peterson first pitched the idea for a Visitor Center in 2006, which was met with enthusiasm. He was hired to manage the project and has been at the helm ever since. “I’m living the dream,” he says. “I’ve been a PEZ fan since the 1990s when I started collecting. If you’d told me then that I’d be doing this job, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
The PEZ Visitor Center is a chance for fans young and old to relive some of their best childhood memories. “PEZ is a statement of what was fun,” Peterson says. “People have fond memories. It’s a candy and a toy, two of the best things in the world all rolled into one. There are few things that draw on all of the senses like PEZ does. The aroma of PEZ really takes you back.”
- By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, EMILY JARMOLOWICZ
You are not logged in. To login or create an account please click here