In late November, I was traveling through Connecticut with my brother and sister, on our way home from a family event in Massachusetts, when we got snagged in some ugly traffic on I-95. Slowly, slowly, we crept along the highway, inching our way toward the roadside advertisement that proved to be our afternoon’s salvation: PEZ Vistor Center.
We decided to pull off the road and visit the candy mecca. Think of it like a Roadside FastPass–we’d still be waiting for traffic to clear up, but at least we could do something else while we waited. The museum, factory and store were just a 2 minute drive from exit 41 in Orange, Connecticut.
When you enter the PEZ museum, the first thing you’ll encounter is a detailed history of the sweet treat, broken out by decade with lots of examples of PEZ innovations. The biggest surprise? The dispensers we know and so closely associate with the candy weren’t introduced until PEZ was 20 years old!
The candies were originally intended to be breath mints and were invented in 1927 in Austria. In the late 40s, the box was reshaped to resemble a lighter—designed to be a comforting, familiar size to those who were trying to quit smoking!
The Mouse doesn’t enter into the equation until the early 1960s, when PEZ introduced the first Mickey Mouse dispenser. There were several styles, but I especially love the early dispensers with a diecut design running down their side.
In the 1970s, PEZ introduced interchangeable rubber heads for the dispensers. Two of the rarest PEZ dispensers are from this era: a rubber Mickey Mouse and a Mary Poppins. I love that Poppins got some love, but I have to wonder if Julie Andrews finds the dispenser slightly insulting.
In addition to the tour of PEZ history, the museum also includes a variety of interactive features, including a trivia game and an opportunity to appear in a PEZ video, and a huge collection of memorabilia, including the world’s largest PEZ dispenser and dispenser styles throughout time.
In the free-standing cases, you’ll find a variety of different kinds of memorabilia, including a “PEZ Girl” costume from advertisements, special dispensers and one-sheets used by PEZ to convince stores to carry their product. I particularly liked this one:
In addition to the free-standing cases, there were about 14 wall-mounted displays, showcasing the evolution of specific PEZ dispensers over time. This is where the Disney fan will find some really amazing artifacts.
The first thing I noticed were the ducks: Scrooge, Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. They’ve all seen some pretty drastic changes since they were introduced (Donald in 1961 and the others in 1977). I especially love the angry Donald, part of a 2003 set called “Disney Extreme.” I also wondered why there was no 1977 version of Huey displayed.
Another interesting display featured Snow White and Dopey, both originally introduced in 1967. (You can also see a couple of Jiminy Cricket dispensers, which were introduced in 1973.) Later, I snapped the second shot in the gift shop, a ‘limited edition’ Snow White and the Seven Dwarves set. Introduced in 2011, the set won the “Disney Product of the Year Award,” and also helps illustrate just how far PEZ has come in its ability to depict classic and beloved characters.
Some other favorites from the Disney display cases include Pinocchio, Dumbo and Winnie the Pooh. You can also see several of the characters from The Lion King below (released in 2004). In Pinocchio, you can see the leap in realism made in just ten years (the ones of the left were introduced in 1962, and the ones on the left were introduced in 1973).
I really liked the Disney Princess and Fairies dispensers, as well. They’ve all been introduced within the last 10 years—the Princess series began in 2005 with Belle, Jasmine and Cinderella, while the Fairies series began in 2008.
On the second floor of the museum, I found some more framed one-sheets, used to sell PEZ to store owners, as well as a small cafeteria area with vending machines. Next to the real-food vending machines were several old-school PEZ vending machines, which I found really fascinating. The machine pictured is in original condition and has not been restored.
In the little cafeteria, the tables were decorated with tiny trees strung with tiny PEZ candies, and around the corner, there was a larger PEZ-themed tree. Across from the tree was a giant, animatronic PEZ Bear … I couldn’t resist taking some video so that you can share in the horror:
While touring, guests also have access to a wall of windows that overlooks the PEZ manufacturing floor. The factory is only functional Monday-Friday, and I visited on a Sunday, so unfortunately I didn’t get to see it in action. But there was a video detailing the manufacturing process so I didn’t miss too much.
Along the back wall of the museum, you’ll find the PEZ Factory Store, where you can buy loose PEZ as well as a wide array of dispensers, ranging from sets of American Presidents (perfect for the history-obsessed father-in-law) to Disney and Pixar characters. I was nearly giddy when I ran into a wall full of Phineas, Ferb and Perry!
The self-guided tour costs only $5 for adults ($4 for kids and seniors) and admission includes a $2 credit toward anything in the PEZ Factory Store. (You’d better believe I used the heck out of that!) It was a really fun way to spend 90 minutes, and I’d recommend a visit if you’re interested in PEZ specifically or pop culture in general.
What’s on top of your favorite PEZ dispenser?