The Creator of Peanut M&M's Was Allergic to Peanuts

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Weaving the Web via Flickr / Weaving the Web via Flickr

by Kirsten Howard

Forrest Mars was just a child when his parents divorced, and he rarely saw his father after that. He went on to study industrial engineering at Yale, which is about as far away from inventing new candy as you can get. But when your father is Frank C. Mars, the founder of a little candy company called Mars, Inc., it seems that chocolate is in your blood.

Forrest made the tentative decision to work at Mars, Inc. alongside his estranged father as an adult, but they were soon disagreeing over expansion of the business abroad, and it wasn’t long before they were calling their partnership quits. He quickly accepted a buyout offer from his father and traveled to England, where he invented the Mars bar in 1933.

A year later Mars, Sr. died, and his son triumphantly returned to the U.S., starting his own food business where he created Uncle Ben’s Rice and Pedigree pet food. He also developed M&M’s, both the original and peanut varieties, but as he was allergic to peanuts, he couldn’t taste his own invention.

Eventually, Forrest agreed to take over Mars, Inc., but he didn’t merge it with his own company (Food Manufacturers) until 1964. During his first meeting with the executives at Mars, he claimed to be religious and then fell to his knees.

''I pray for Milky Way," he chanted. "I pray for Snickers!''

''He was legendary for his extreme temper, and his fanatical behavior,'' reported Joël Glenn Brenner, author of The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars.

''He would call up sales associates in the middle of the night if he found a packet of M&M's where the 'M' wasn't printed exactly in the middle of the candy, and he would order the candy recalled,'' said Brenner.

Forrest retired a mere nine years later, but that didn’t stop his obsession with all things Mars.

''He ... continued to call and harass [the company] when he saw things that were not to his liking,'' Brenner added.

As a final act of rebellion toward his old man, Forrest started a company named after his mother—the first Mrs. Mars—during his retirement.

Forrest Mars passed away in 1999 at the ripe old age of 95, worth $4 billion, and having never taken a single bite of many of Mars, Inc.’s best-selling products.