Curtis Allina, a man who thrilled the world by helping to make the Pez dispenser a household item, died of heart failure Dec. 15 at age 87, according to his obituary in The New York Times.

Illustration Ryn Gargulinski

Illustration Ryn Gargulinski

Folks who don’t like Pez dispensers go into the same category as those who don’t like animals – you just can’t trust them.

They are probably crabby, too.

Actually, Allina is just one of a half-dozen possible people who may have come up with putting a head on the formerly boring plastic Pez dispenser, a hot point of debate among Pez historians.

Yes, Pez historians.

Even if the head itself was not Allina’s idea, he was the guy who convinced the Vienna-based candy company to transform their bland candies into fun-flavored fruity things and put them in a kid-friendly package.

The candy first appeared in 1927 in Vienna as mints, hence the name Pez, which is derived from the German pfefferminz, or peppermint. It was offered to consumers as an alternative to smoking and its thin, plastic dispenser was designed to resemble a lighter.

But that was boring and the stuff never really took off in America, where it arrived in the 1950s.

Allina, in his capacity of vice president of the candy company, was charged with convincing the honchos in Vienna that the candy should branch into fruity flavors and come out of the neck of fun figurines.

The first two dispensers were a Santa Claus and some robot called the Space Trooper. Hundreds, if not thousands, of dispensers are now on the market. They range from Elvis to Mickey Mouse, Wonder Woman to Garfield, zombies to panda bears.

Some are kitschy and cool while others, like new characters from many banal Disney movies, wholly work against the kitschy and cool.

An entire museum in the San Francisco Bay area is dedicated to the little plastic things: The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia.

Sounds more fun than places like the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum or the Cumberland Pencil Museum in England.

Born in Prague, Allina was the only member of his Sephardic Jewish family to survive the World War II concentration camps, his obit said. He moved to New York and got his candy job at Pez-Haas in 1953 after first working in a meat packing plant.

While we are tickled he helped create the Pez dispenser, we are still wholly curious as to how we’d be now eating hamburger if Allina would have stayed on in the meat packing business.


What do you think?

Do you have fond memories of Pez dispensers or did they start fights with your brother?

What is your favorite/least favorite Pez dispenser?

Do you even care about Pez dispensers or do you have more important things to fret about, like world peace?