I can tell you that many people wonder what the M’s in M&M’s stand for. As you may know, M&M’s candy is made by Mars, Inc., which most people probably think of as Mars Candy Company or just Mars. I’ve already told the story of how the Snickers bar got its name. Given the two M’s in M&M, it would be logical to assume that at least one of the M’s stood for Mars. And that is true. So, what does the other M stand for? Another Mars?
No, it stands for Murrie, meaning that the full name of M&M’s means Mars and Murrie.
So, who is Murrie? Well, Murrie is the guy who helped develop the iconic candy-coated chocolate pieces with Mars. However, in this case the Mars was not Frank Mars, but his son Forrest Mars.
Frank Mars, the founder of Mars, permanently wheelchair bound due to childhood polio, had married Ethel G. Kissack in 1902, while operating his first wholesale candy business. Forrest Mars, their son, was born in 1904. However, the couple’s money situation was not good, and when they ran out of money in 1910, Ethel wanted a divorce, and the two went their separate ways, causing Frank to be estranged from his son.
He married a second time, to a woman also named Ethel, and moved to Tacoma and began making nougat, but still failed to make a go of it. He left Tacoma in 1920 and went back to Minnesota, where he founded another candy company, called the Mar-O-Bar Company, named after the candy bar of the same name, which had caramel, nuts, and chocolate. During this time his son came back into his life, and Forrest entered his father’s business. The two changed the name of the company to Mars, Inc.
By 1923 they introduced the Milky Way, which was a huge success in its first year, grossing over $800,000. At this time they were the second-largest candy maker in America, after Hershey’s. After the release of the Snickers bar in 1930 and the 3 Musketeers Bar in 1932, the company needed so much chocolate it ended up buying it from Hershey, which went on until 1965.
At this point, Frank Mars was pretty pleased with the success of his company, especially given how all his other ventures had failed miserably. But Forrest was not satisfied, and agitated for expansion. He also did not like the fact that Mars had to buy its chocolate from Hershey. He wanted to be a rich businessman, not just a candy maker, and he believed that you couldn’t get rich making a product you couldn’t truly manufacture yourself. He wanted to fix this problem and he wanted to expand into Canada and other markets. Forrest was already overseeing the new state-of-the-art factory in Chicago, the construction of which he had personally overseen. But, he was now micromanaging the business, and breathing down the necks of supervisors, administrators, and even workers, while continuing to argue vehemently with his father.
So, in 1932, Frank Mars pushed Forrest out, giving him $50,000 and the foreign rights for the manufacture of Milky Way. Forrest left for Europe with his wife and kids, never to see his father again. Frank Mars died of kidney failure 15 months later.
Forrest, once in Europe, did not immediately get into the candy business, which stands to reason, since he couldn’t have been feeling too great about dredging up the bitter associations it must have had. He started out selling shoe racks. But after only a few months he was back to candy. He claimed, during this time, to have “studied” under the master tutelage of Jean Tobler, inventor of the Toblerone bar, and Henri Nestlé, the inventor of milk chocolate, but in reality, he got hired on as an ordinary factory worker in both businesses, and in essence, spied out their secrets.
In 1933, armed with his surreptitiously gained knowledge, Forrest moved to England and started making a version of the Milky Way more suited to British tastes, working out of his kitchen. He called the new version the Mars Bar. His competition was fierce. He had to contend with Cadbury Brothers, Ltd. And Rowntree & Company, makers of what we now know as the Kit Kat bar, among other successful products. Forrest devoted everything to his venture, to the expense of his wife and son, who went back to the U.S., unable to endure the conditions any longer.
Purchasing his chocolate from Cadbury’s, Mars grew his candy business, starting with a small factory in Slough. However, Forrest also got into the dog food business. There was little competition, as most people fed their pets table scraps. In 1934, he purchased a small dog-food company, and in five years made it Britain’s largest pet-food manufacturer. And, before long, the Mars bars started catching on, so that by 1939, Mars, Ltd. was Britain’s third largest candy maker, even though attempts to market new candy bars failed. Mars was able to set up a factory in Brussels, in order to sell Mars bars throughout Europe. However, when the World War II began, the British government began levying taxes on foreign business owners. Mars chose to leave the country rather than pay the very high taxes and left Colin Pratt, his senior British manager, in charge.
He did not go back to the U.S. empty-handed. He had an idea, and it would prove a doozy. Mars knew that chocolate did not sell very well in the Summer months because it melted in the heat. The kind of chocolate his family and others routinely made experienced a big drop in sales during the hotter months of the year. But, Mars had an idea: A candy that did not melt in your hands! He wanted to make such a candy in the U.S.
Now, this is where the story gets mysterious. You see, there was already a candy made in Britain that was much like what M&M’s would become. They were made by Rowntree and they were called Smarties. That’s right, these were small round pieces of chocolate coated in colorful candy shells. Did Forrest know of Rowntree? Of course! In fact, some claim that he and George Harris, head of Rowntree, were good friends. It is further claimed, by Robert Fitzgerald, that Forrest had traveled to Toronto, where Rowntree were planning their new manufacturing plant in Canada, to give advice to the management there. While there, says Fitzgerald, he discussed an agreement whereby he would join Rowntree in a joint venture whereby Rowntree would make Maltesers, a chocolate covered malted-milk ball like Whoppers in America, which Forrest had also introduced in Britain. This agreement did not happen, but regardless, many hold that the inspiration for M&M’s was indeed the Rowntree Smarties.
U.S. readers might be confused by the name Smarties. Here, we know them as little pastel colored compressed sugar candies. This product was originated by the Ce De Candy Inc. of the U.S. Its British founders new all about Rowntree’s Smarties, and took advantage of the fact that, for some reason, Rowntree had copyrighted the name in many countries around the world, but not the United States. The same candies were sold in Canada, where the Smarties name was copyrighted. There, they are known as Rockets.
To make his idea of a candy that “melts in your mouth but not in your hands” a reality, Mars went back on his principle of business success: He enlisted the aid of a competitor. He decided to go to, believe it or not, Hershey, to ask for backing. He went to the office of William Murrie, who had taken over the day-to-day operations of the company from Milton Hershey. Remember, Mars had, for years been getting its chocolate from Hershey (like most everybody else, in those days), but Forrest was the new kid in town. It took a bit of audacity, but Forrest came and pitched the idea of making these small candies that melt in your mouth but not in your hand. Some sources attest that he had some Rowntree Smarties with him at the time, and that he claimed to hold the foreign production rights for them. Any connection between Smarties and M&M’s is vehemently denied by the present day Mars company, of course, and we may never know where the idea came from, although it is hard to see how he could not have been inspired by Smarties. Even the sources that do not mention Smarties claim he carried a sample of his new candy in his pocket, and that it was a hot day, so that when Forrest pulled the candy out of his pocket, and it was not a mess of melted chocolate, Murrie couldn’t help but be impressed.
Forrest needed Hershey to produce the chocolate for the candy. He proposed, as well, that he should enter into partnership with Murrie’s son, Bruce, with whom Forrest was already associated. He offered to share top-billing with Bruce. William Murrie agreed and there we have the origin of the name of M&M’s. The first “M” stands for Mars, and the second “M” stands for Murrie, meaning Bruce Murrie. The two called the new company, which began operation in 1940, M&M Ltd..
Hershey contributed the chocolate, 20% of the capital, and manufacturing equipment as well as engineers to help get the plant ready. After the plant began operations, Forrest paid no attention to Murrie, ignoring all his ideas, until, in 1949, Mars bought him out for $1 million. Afterwards, Mars changed the name of the company to Food Manufacturers, Inc.. By that time, M&M’s were a huge success, with $3 million in annual sales. Earlier, in 1942, Forrest had bought a small rice mill and started Uncles Ben’s Rice.
When Frank Mars had died in 1934, Forrest had tried to gain control of Mars, Inc., but the company had been left to his second wife, Ethel, who, as you may recall, was not Forrest’s mother. However, when Ethel died in 1945, half of her stock passed to Forrest, who gained a seat on the board of directors and an office at company headquarters, only to be banned from the grounds when he tried to oust William Kruppenbacher, Ethel’s brother and then manager of the company. Later, Krruppenbacher gave Forrest one-third of the seats on the board, which gave Mars enough influence to push Mars to modernize its production and expand its market globally. He became chairman of the company in 1959 and in 1964 he merged it with Food Manufacturers, Inc., the M&M making company. The name of the new merged company was agreed to become Mars, Inc..