They’re arguably America’s favorite candy, so you could always know a little more about this divine marriage of chocolate and peanut butter.
1. THEY'RE THE BRAINCHILD OF A FORMER HERSHEY EMPLOYEE.
When Harry Burnett Reese needed a job in 1916, he ended up landing a spot at one of the Hershey Chocolate Company’s dairy farms, where he rose from a gig milking cows to managing the part of the Hershey milk operation known as the Round Barn. While he was working at this job, Reese realized the financial rewards the candy industry could offer—but when the experimental Round Barn facility closed in 1919, he found himself unemployed.
2. REESE'S FIRST CRACK AT THE CANDY BUSINESS WAS A FLOP.
The newly jobless Reese tried to get back on his feet by opening the R&R Candy Company in Hummelstown, Penn. This new venture made chocolate almonds and raisins, but Reese didn’t have any luck. Even after he sold stock in the company under the name Superior Chocolate & Confectionery in order to afford modern machinery, he couldn’t edge into the candy game. The company went under, and after bouncing around in other jobs, he ended up back at Hershey, where he worked in the shipping department. This time, his work ethic earned him a promotion to foreman, but Reese still wasn’t satisfied.
3. REESE'S NEXT CANDY COMPANY STARTED IN HIS BASEMENT.
Even after striking out on his first attempt to crack the industry, Reese looked at Milton Hershey’s success and realized there was enough money to go around in the candy business. He began experimenting with new formulations and treats in his basement, and soon he was making a variety of sweets. The flagship in those early days was the Lizzie Bar, a chocolate-covered union of caramel and freshly grated coconut that was named after Reese’s daughter. He also sold a Johnny Bar named after his son that was made with molasses. These goodies found enough traction that in 1923 Reese was able to quit his job at Hershey’s plant and again strike out on his own with the H.B. Reese Candy Company.
4. THE BIG BREAKTHROUGH CAME IN 1928.
While Reese’s early efforts with his new company proved popular, the real game changer arrived five years after he incorporated the new venture. When Reese created the new chocolate-covered peanut butter cup that would become synonymous with his name that year, even he didn’t know what a milestone the moment was. Far from receiving a flashy product rollout, the cups were packaged in 5-pound candy assortments that shopkeepers bought in bulk. The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup began its life as an ensemble player.
5. THE PEANUT BUTTER CUP BECAME A BREAKOUT STAR.
As anyone who’s tasted a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup knows, the new sweet was just too tasty to toil in obscurity for long. As demand for the cups picked up, Reese began selling them as a freestanding item at some point around 1935. Stores could stock boxes of 120 cups that sold for a penny each, with larger two-cent and five-cent varieties also available. Soon, the former component of a bulk candy mix was a runaway hit.
6. WORLD WAR II LED TO REESE DOUBLING DOWN ON THE PEANUT BUTTER CUPS.
Sugar and chocolate were hard to come by during World War II, which led to trouble for many candy makers. Luckily for Reese and his company, peanut butter was not rationed, and the process of making Peanut Butter cups could be automated. The company abandoned the rest of its product line to become a juggernaut that focused on Peanut Butter Cups alone, and the cups’ popularity only grew after the war.
7. HERSHEY EVENTUALLY BROUGHT REESE'S COMPANY BACK INTO THE FOLD.
Reese’s company ended up back where the inventive executive had started. Harry Reese passed away in 1956, and in 1963, Hershey acquired the H.B. Reese Candy Company. It turned out to be a savvy move by Hershey—Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would go on to become the company’s bestselling offering.
8. REESE'S PIECES WERE A RELATIVELY RECENT BREAKTHROUGH.
In 1978, the Reese’s brand got another shot in the arm. Five decades after Harry Reese developed the peanut butter cup that made him famous, Hershey introduced Reese’s Pieces. The bite-sized treats were originally saddled with the forgettable name PBs before being dubbed Reese's Pieces and enjoying a successful product launch.
9. REESE'S PIECES' MOST SUCCESSFUL PRODUCT PLACEMENT COULD HAVE GONE TO M&M'S.
Reese’s Pieces came out of the gates quickly, but they really took off when they made an iconic appearance in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster E.T. the Extraterrestrial. While everyone’s favorite alien nibbled Reese’s Pieces, if Spielberg had gotten his way, E.T. would have devoured Reese’s bite-sized rivals. As the story goes, Spielberg and his team wanted to use M&M’s in the spot, but Mars declined the opportunity to partner up. Hershey, on the other hand, was happy to accept the product placement deal and pledged $1 million in ads to support the movie. It was a strong bet—after E.T. became a hit, Reese’s Pieces sales soared by at least 60 percent.
10. COOKS HAVE A FIELD DAY WITH THE CUPS.
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are tasty on their own, but inventive cooks have found all sorts of ways to upgrade the sweets. From cookies to ice cream to cheesecakes, Reese’s cups can be redeployed in all manner of decadent desserts. These chocolate-and-peanut-butter life hacks have gotten so popular that Hershey’s even maintains a page of Reese’s recipes.
11. THEY MAY BE THE MOST POPULAR HALLOWEEN CANDY.
To the delight of trick-or-treaters everywhere, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have established themselves as Halloween favorites. By some estimates, they’re the top Halloween candy in America, which jibes with the finding that Reese’s leads all candy in sales of snack sizes. Across the entire year, Hershey sells more than $500 million worth of Reese’s annually, so if you’ve been known to sneak a cup or two, you’re not alone.