January 3, 2010

The man who put the heads on the Pez dispenser.

Curtis Allina. A classic obituary, depicting a man you're only hearing about because he has died. He was 87. The heads went on the dispensers in 1955. I'm old enough to have had a pre-head type Pez dispenser, and though the obituary says "In 1955, at his urging, what had been an austerely packaged Austrian confection for adults took on vibrant new life as a children’s product," we kids thought the original dispenser was really cool. Did I get a Pez dispenser with a head when I already had a Pez dispenser? I think I did. I think I had Popeye. But this isn't the place to tell you how much I loved Popeye. This is a post about candy... and packaging... and writing about death.
Curtis Allina was born Aug. 15, 1922, in Prague, and raised in Vienna. Between 1941 and 1945, he and his family, Sephardic Jews, were forced into a series of concentration camps. Mr. Allina emerged at war’s end as his family’s sole survivor in Europe. Making his way to New York, he worked for a commercial meatpacker before joining Pez-Haas, as the company’s United States arm was then known, in 1953.

Pez was invented in 1927 by Eduard Haas III, a Viennese food-products mogul. Small, rectangular and mint-flavored (the name is a contraction of pfefferminz, the German word for peppermint), the candy was marketed to adults as an alternative to smoking. Originally sold in tins, Pez was repackaged in the late 1940s in plain, long-stemmed dispensers meant to suggest cigarette lighters.
And so, we Boomers were turned away from cigarette-oriented play and into the world of pop culture characters... by a man who emerged from the Holocaust.

6 comments:

edutcher said...

Lots of early Boomers remember the original Pez dispensers. At least in my family, they were what the big M&Ms bags later became - the goto stocking stuffer. The top had a slight resemblance to a dragon's head.

I tend to agree with Ann that the ones with the character heads came a little later to the States. In any case, it's a little sad to hear he's gone, like hearing somebody you watched on TV had died, a part of your childhood.

WV "prnon" One of the list of the parts of speech you recited for your parents when they checked to see if you'd done your homework.

Ralph L said...

Mr. Allina emerged at war’s end as his family’s sole survivor in Europe.
A world of horrors in one matter-of-fact sentence.

Is Pez-Haas the same company that makes the Easter egg dye kits?

E.M. Davis said...

"Is Pez-Haas the same company that makes the Easter egg dye kits?

http://www.paaseastereggs.com/contact.htm

Apparently not.

A remarkable life.

ricpic said...

The thing that's so unnerving about Austrian culture is that it has been the fountainhead of so much that is endearing and gemutlich and yet has also produced the most vicious bastards imaginable.

William said...

The girl friend of the guy who founded E-Bay was a collector of pez heads. E-Bay was originally set up to facilitate the trading of pez heads. The permutations of unintended consequences are impossible to handicap. At any rate to this man's list of accomplishments add that he was instrutmental in the founding of eBay.

Palladian said...

"The girl friend of the guy who founded E-Bay was a collector of pez heads. E-Bay was originally set up to facilitate the trading of pez heads. The permutations of unintended consequences are impossible to handicap. At any rate to this man's list of accomplishments add that he was instrutmental in the founding of eBay."

The eBay Pez story is a big marketing lie, made up by eBay PR chief Mary Lou Song in 1997. The first item sold on eBay was Pierre Omidyar's broken laser pointer.