How One PEZ Dispenser Collector Made A Fortune In The '90s

PEZ is one of the most iconic candies of all time. Invented in Austria in 1927 by a man named Eduard Haas III, the block-shaped, bite-sized wonders have remained a confectionery staple around the globe for nearly a century. The brand name itself is derived from the term "pfefferminz," the German word for peppermint, the confection's original flavor, according to the company's website. Funnily enough, the brand is arguably more well-known for its colorful, plastic dispensers — which display the faces of beloved fictional characters and real-life people — than the fruit-flavored morsels. Over the years, PEZ dispensers have become a pop culture phenomenon in their own right, as people all over the world have accumulated impressive collections that are worth a shockingly high value.

There is one fascinating story, however, that garnered the attention of PEZ consumers, collectors, and even the candy's Vienna-based owners back in the 1990s, when the brand was a hot commodity at American toy conventions and on store shelves, per Mental Floss.

A Michigan PEZ dispenser collector became a notorious millionaire

Throughout history, people have encountered numerous anecdotes that are simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking — and the story of Steve Glew is certainly one of them. Steve Glew, a humble horse farmer and former machine operator from a small town in Michigan who battles with OCD and bipolar depression, never knew what his seemingly ordinary life would come to be when he first discovered PEZ three decades ago in the eclectic era known as the '90s. After spotting a PEZ dispenser at a toy convention and learning about the profitable craze, Glew traveled to the PEZ factory in Vienna. On his way home, he was able to legally "smuggle" thousands of the European-made dispensers via a giant duffel bag back to the States due to an overlooked snag in customs, per The Hollywood Reporter. American collectors absolutely loved his foreign novelties, making Glew an overnight millionaire fittingly nicknamed "The PEZ Outlaw." Unfortunately, executives at the PEZ offices in both Europe and the U.S. caught onto the scheme, ultimately putting Glew out of business.

Although Glew's PEZ-induced fame and wealth were short-lived, his rags-to-riches adventure has received praise and a renewed sense of awareness through the award-winning documentary "The PEZ Outlaw," which made its debut at SXSW 2022. Directors Amy and Bryan Storkel's charming, quirkily humorous picture has been an acclaimed feature at film festivals in cities across the U.S., including Phoenix, Cleveland, Seattle, Milwaukee, and Detroit. It's also garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews according to Rotten Tomatoes.