M&Ms are small, chocolate candies coated in a smooth, solid sugar coating. The colours of the coatings can be brown, green, orange, red, blue, yellow and tan (originally violet.)
They are made in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
They were created by Forrest Edward Mars.
Some say he saw soldiers in Spain eating small bits of chocolate coated in sugar. But if he was living in England (which he was at the time — see Mars Family entry), and in the candy business, he would surely have been aware of Smarties, of which M&Ms are a knock-off.
He set up the M&Ms company back in the States in 1940. He put up 80% of the money to found the company; the other 20% was put up by R. Bruce Murrie, the son of the president of Hershey’s (William Murrie.) This got him access to Hershey’s chocolate because during the war, Hershey’s wasn’t rationed because they produced chocolate for the troops. Hershey’s chocolate was used in M&Ms up until the 1960s.
In December 1964, Mars bought out Murrie’s 20% share.
M&Ms were sold at first in paper tubes. He started selling them in a brown pouch in 1948.
The M started being stamped on them in 1950. The two M’s in the name stood for “Mars” and “Murrie.”
The peanut version appeared in 1954.
From 1976 to 1987 red M&Ms were unavailable: they were caught up in the “Red Dye No. 2” cancer scare that everyone believed in those 10 years (which also killed off Devil’s Food Cake.) Red M&Ms had never contained Red Dye No. 2.
Blue ones appeared in the 1990s.
In 1981, Steven Spielberg offered the Mars sons, John Mars, and Forrest Mars, Junior, who were managing the business by that time, a product placement deal for M&Ms in the movie E.T. The proposal was that M&Ms would be used as the candy that the 9-year-old boy Elliott used to entice the shy alien out of the woods.
M&Ms was actually in the script. The Mars company refused, though.
Consquently, an offer was made to Hershey Foods, they accepted, and Reese’s Pieces became the candy used. Sales of Reese’s Pieces tripled within two weeks of the movie being released. Reputedly embarrassed at having missed the boat, the Mars company later officially denied ever having been made an offer by Spielberg.