The Real Reason M&M's Were Invented

M&M's are more than just a popular candy that "melts in your mouth, not in your hands." They're a cultural icon that are as beloved as their anthropomorphized spokespeople, Yellow and Red (and sometimes Blue, Orange, Brown, and Green). As the company website points out, these hard-shelled confections have made their place in history. They were the first candy to hurdle through the cosmos, the "official snack foods" of the 1984 Olympic Games in LA, and, due to the fact that the number 2000 is represented by the Roman numerals MM, this famed treat became the "official candy of the new millennium." Yes, this diminutive bonbon has a lot to brag about. 

While you may feel very familiar with these brightly-hued ellipsoids, there's a great deal that you may not know about M&M's. Did you know that they weren't stamped with an "M" until after 1950 and that the marking was originally black? Or that red M&M's disappeared for 11 years when the public became concerned about the use of Red Dye No. 2? You likely never knew that they've been produced in 17 different shades or that the rarest M&M's color is brown. Another surprising fact you may not know about is the origin of M&M's.

Some say M&M's are based on the UK's Smarties

It turns out that M&M's came into existence in 1941 after Forrest Mars Sr., the originator of the Mars Bar, noticed that troops fighting in the Spanish Civil War would eat minuscule chocolate balls encased in a hard candy coating (via History). According to the Washington Post, a former Mars spokesperson claimed this protection from melting was important as, "In those days, the stores didn't have air conditioning, the cars didn't have air conditioning, the homes didn't have air conditioning." And heat can be cruel to chocolate. 

Mental Floss, however, speculates that this candy may not have been inspired by a melting problem at all, claiming that Mars may have based the idea off of "Smarties" from British candy maker Rowntree's. This chocolate candy was also coated with a hard shell in a variety of colors and debuted while Mars was in the UK. Whatever the inspiration was, Mars teamed up with Bruce Murrie (per History), son of Hershey chocolate president, William Murrie, and formed Mars & Murrie. Now you know why these yummy little candies are called "M&M's."