There’s no mistaking that chocolate-covered combination of caramel and nougat. Developed nearly 100 years ago in Mars company founder Frank Mars’s kitchen, the Milky Way bar has since gone on to candy industry glory, with more than $100 million in yearly sales. Here are a few facts worth biting into.
1. IT ISN’T NAMED AFTER THE GALAXY.
The Milky Way bar is actually named after malted milk, a popular drink around the time it was first released, in 1923. Started as an infant formula in the late 1800s, malted milk was prized for its taste and reputed health qualities, and became a key ingredient in the malted milkshake, or “malt.” Eager to capitalize on its popularity, Milky Way’s early ads claimed the candy bar had “more malted milk content than a soda fountain double malted milk!”
2. THERE’S A FATHER-SON FEUD AT THE CENTER OF IT.
The Mars company claims founder Frank Mars developed the Milky Way bar along with his son, Forrest. But the truth isn’t quite so harmonious. Forrest grew up with his grandparents after his parents divorced in 1910, when Forrest was just 6 years old. Father and son didn’t see each other again for 20 years—oddly enough, when Frank had to bail Forrest out of a Chicago jail. The two worked together for a few years, until a falling out sent Forrest abroad to England, where he made his own name in the confectionery business, and eventually returned to the States to take over the Mars company. Throughout his life, Forrest would claim that even though his father had made the first Milky Way bar, it was his original idea.
3. THE FIRST BARS WERE HUGE.
And we’re not just talking in terms of popularity. Whereas today’s Milky Way bar is just over 1.8 ounces, the original Milky Way weighed in at more than 3 ounces. This provided a nice contrast to the popular Hershey bar. As Forrest Mars explained, “People walked up to the candy counter and they’d see this flat little Hershey bar for a nickel and right next to it, a giant Milky Way. Guess which one they’d pick?”
4. … AND TOTALLY SKIMPED ON THE CARAMEL.
To produce a giant candy bar for cheap, Mars filled his Milky Way with mostly nougat, which was (and pretty much still is) just eggs, sugar, and air. Over time, the company added in more caramel, and today Milky Way’s gooey, stringy caramel filling is a major selling point.
5. HERSHEY’S SUPPLIED THE CHOCOLATE.
In its early days, Mars (then known as Mar-O-Bar) didn’t have the money or the infrastructure to produce its own chocolate. So it contracted with competitor Hershey’s. That agreement lasted all the way up until 1965, when Forrest Mars abruptly terminated it in an effort to move all manufacturing in-house. The move caught Hershey’s completely off guard, which was not good since chocolate coating sales made up 30% of its overall revenue, and Mars the majority of that. Between 1966 and 1968, Hershey’s revenue dropped by more than a fifth.
6. MILKY WAY MIDNIGHT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED “FOREVER YOURS.”
A few years after introducing its original Milky Way bar, Mars came out with a dark-chocolate bar filled with vanilla nougat and caramel. For a few years, the company sold the two bars together in one package. Then in 1936, Mars branded the dark-chocolate bar Forever Yours, touting its “snowy-white nougat” and “fresh dark chocolate.” The name stuck until 1979, when declining sales prompted Mars to pull it from shelves. The bar reappeared in 1989 as Milky Way Dark, and in 2000 became Milky Way Midnight.
7. BUSTER KEATON APPEARED IN A TELEVISION AD.
The renowned silent film star played a billboard worker in this ad from 1961. Although not as spry as he once was—Keaton was well into his sixties at the time—he’s still able to pull off a convincing fall near the end of the clip.
8. IT’S A LOT DIFFERENT OUTSIDE THE U.S.
In Europe, the Milky Way bar is smaller and contains only nougat filling, making it more like a 3 Musketeers bar. Head to Australia, and you’ll find Milky Way in flavors like bananas and berries and cream. The Mars bar, created in England by Forrest Mars (his father gave him the foreign rights to Milky Way), is closer to the American Milky Way, and is sold in Europe, Canada and Australia. A U.S. version of the Mars bar appeared on shelves until 2002, when the company replaced it with Snickers Almond.
9. THE EUROPEAN MILKY WAY FLOATS IN MILK.
To play up Milky Way’s lightness, Mars ran a series of ads in the '90s throughout Europe that showed bars floating in milk. Go ahead and try this experiment at home, kids!
10. THE FTC WENT AFTER MARS FOR ITS ADS.
Back in the '60s, Mars ran a TV ad that linked Milky Way bars to wholesome farm ingredients like fresh milk, eggs and corn. One ad showed a pitcher of milk turning into a Milky Way bar. A stretch? The Federal Trade Commission certainly thought so, and in 1970 issued a consent order (read: hand slap) reminding the company that mass-produced candy is not nutritionally equivalent to fresh milk. Despite this, Mars kept on linking Milky Ways with milk. This 1984 ad claims that each bar has the equivalent of a quarter cup of milk.