Looking Back at Newark Origins of World-Famous M&M Chocolates

by Nat Bodian

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One of the world's most famous and biggest-selling chocolate confectionary brands got its start and ascended to international stature from a base in Newark.

I'm talking about M&M's coated milk chocolate candies.

Start-up operations were begun in 1940 from a factory building at 285 Badger Avenue, between West Bigelow and West Runyon Streets in Newark's Clinton Hill section.

However, with America's entry into World War II and receipt of government contracts, the company soon moved to larger quarters in the old 11th Ward on 200 North 12th Street, at Fourth Avenue1. It remained in this building for 17 years until 1958.

The company was originally founded as M&M Limited. One of the two "M's" was for Forrest Mars Sr., the company founder. The other "M" was for Bruce Murrie, who put up some of the capital for the projected new candy-making operation. When operations were started, the hard-coated chocolates were made in six different colors: Brown, Yellow, Orange, Red, Green and Violet.

Founder was Son of Milky Way's 'Father'

The founder of the Newark company, Forrest E. Mars St., was the son of Frank C. Mars, a candy-maker dating back to 1911. In that year, Frank Mars and his wife began making candies in the kitchen of their Tacoma, Washington, home.

Frank Mars then moved his candy-making operations to Minnesota in 1923, where he introduced the Milky Way bar. His company, in 1926, was then relocated to a new plant in a Chicago suburb where the Mars Almond Bar, the 3 Musketeers, and the Snickers bar were introduced.

Origin of Idea for M&M's

Forrest Mars Sr., having been raised in the shadow of a world of candy-making, had gotten the idea for M&M's in a visit to Spain during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. He'd encountered soldiers eating pellets of chocolate encased in a hard sugary coating which prevented them from melting.

Inspired by this idea, Forrest Mars went back to his kitchen and invented the recipe for M&M's chocolate candies.

M&M's in World War II

Shortly after the company began production as "M&M's Ltd Newark NJ" the tiny chocolates became a favorite of American GIs serving in world War II. Packaged in cardboard tubes, they were quickly adapted by the military who included them in American soldiers' C-rations because they withstood extreme temperatures. In the hot tropics, these candies were especially practical.

In the war years, the company's advertising was largely on billboards, which reflected the wartime theme in these two versions accompanied by this overprint: "Now Entirely at War"

  1. Uniformed soldier holding the tube of M&M's behind the back of a uniformed WAC (Women's Army Corps) who appears to be trying to guess what the surprise is.

  2. Uniformed sailor holds up tube of M&M's behind the back of uniformed Navy WAVE (Women Accepted for Emergency Service) who appears to be trying to guess what the surprise is.

Newark Plant Production Capacity

With the 12th Street candy factory going full blast during World War II, when it could reach peak production, it would turn out 200,000 pounds of M&M's a week--nearly all of it going to the military.

By war's end, with help from Ingmar Monson, an engineering contractor from Fairfield NJ, who was putting in 80-90 hours a week, the Newark plant's capacity was gradually stretched to 600,000 pounds per week. by the 1950s, the capacity was further expanded to reach its maximum output--1 million pounds a week, running in variable shifts, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 24 hours a day.

Newark M&M Landmarks and Innovations

1941 - M&M begins production in Newark and first M&M go on sale. They are described as "Plain Chocolate Candies."

1942 - America enters World War II and Armed Forces incorporates M&M's into soldiers' C-Rations.2 They are also sold in Post Exchanges and Ships Service Stores.

Company, known as "M&M Ltd Newark NJ" incorporates statement in advertising: "Now 100% at War."

1946 - World War II over, M&M's become available to general public again.

1947 - Quarter-pound package of M&M's advertised for sale at 15 cents.

1948 - Original cardboard tube packaging is changed to the clear see-through cellophane packaging still in use today.

1950 - Company begins imprinting an 'm' on each candy, in black.

M&M launches heavy national advertising and becomes household name.

1954 - M&M Peanut Chocolate Candies introduced3, in Brown only.

The 'm' imprint on M&M's is changed from black to white.

M&M begins TV advertising4, launches a new slogan; "The milk chocolate melts in your mount--not in your hand."

1958 - Demand for M&M's surpasses Newark plant capacity of 1 million pounds per week.5

Company relocates to Hackettstown, NJ.


Gone From Newark: The Operation and Aroma

After the M&M operation left its North 12th Street premises, along with its departure went the smell of chocolate that had constantly lingered in the neighborhood air. The chocolaty aroma for 17 years had been instantly recognizable to neighborhood visitors, but was something that nearby residents had learned to ignore.

The M&M operation relocated to Hackettstown, where it still maintains its world headquarters. The current CEO and Co-President is Forrest E. Mars Jr., son of the company founder, Forrest E. Mars Sr.

Today, the former Newark M&M factory is the site of Tony's Pallets, a firm engaged in the making of wooden pallets -- the platforms used for storing and moving cargo or freight.

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On April 12, 1981, M&M chocolates rose to heights never before achieved by any other chocolate. The first space shuttle astronauts, John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen, asked for M&M's to be included in the food supply for a two-day, record-setting earth orbit. Consequently, M&M's became a component of the space food exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.


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