The True Origin Story Of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

You may remember the classic Reese's ad from 1972 where a man who's eating chocolate falls downs steps and accidentally puts his chocolate in a child's peanut butter: "You got peanut butter on my chocolate!" "Well, you got chocolate in my peanut butter!" And suddenly, a new candy is born. Yeah, that's ... not really how the creation of Reese's Cups went down. 

For starters, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups weren't invented in the '70s – they're from the late 1920s. According to the Hershey Archives, their creator, Harry Burnett Reese, had worked as a farmer, a fish hatchery manager, and a factory worker to support his family before landing a job as a dairy farmer for Milton Hershey. Impressed by Hershey's chocolate company, Reese began making candies at home after work to sell around town. For years, however, the business struggles. After failing to find success selling hard candies, he began experimenting with coating various fillings in Hershey's chocolate.

"Absolutely every center of that candy was delicious," remembered his oldest daughter, Mary Elizabeth Reese Pearson. Five years into the Reese's Company, Reese began making peanut butter-filled chocolate cups in response to a commercial customer who'd noted that chocolate peanut butter candy was flying off the shelves faster than he could restock (via Snack History). What made Reese's peanut butter cups especially tasty was the distinct way his malfunctioning roasting equipment roasted the peanuts, which accidentally made it taste better than the other peanut butter options around. 

From the 1920s to today

The company really took off in the 1930s. In 1942, because of both the candy's success and the financial strains of WWII, Reese discontinued the other chocolates and focused solely on the peanut butter cup. After Reese's death in 1956, his six sons took over the company, and in 1963, they sold it to Hershey's for $23.5 million, which is about $200 million in 2020 dollars (via Business Insider and U.S. Inflation calculator). By 1969, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were Hershey's bestselling product, selling more than 300 million cups per year (via Atlas Obscura). 

In the early 70s, the ad agency Ogilvy and Mather launched that iconic "Hey you got peanut butter on my chocolate" campaign, which made the candy not just Hershey's top product, but also the bestselling candy in the U.S. Today, you can head into any drug store or supermarket anywhere in the U.S. and see tons of Reese's products. There are Reese's Pieces, candy bars, seasonal shapes (like the Halloween ghosts and pumpkins), different kinds of chocolate, various sizes, new fillings, and so many more. We can bet H.B. Reese would be proud.