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M&M’s®: From the Spanish Civil War to a GI’s Favorite Snack

Posted by Mike Bakke | Nov 28, 2023 | 0 Comments

This article is the second in a series on the technology and innovations that came about or were first majorly used during World War II. We will cover a number of incredible inventions, so make sure to take a look at our previous article and check back for more.

In the 1930s, Forrest E. Mars, Sr., son of the founder of the Mars Candy Company, moved from the U.S. to England to expand his knowledge of the candy industry and develop his craft. During this time, he encountered British volunteers fighting in the Spanish Civil War who received small candy-covered chocolate pellets as part of their rations.[i]

Mars saw these pellets, and a similar product in England called “Smarties,” as a potential jackpot for the Mars Candy Company. Once he brought the idea of chocolate with a candy coating back to the U.S., Mars quickly developed and allegedly[ii] patented a new process for the production of these candies in 1941.[iii]

Smarties – A Precursor to M&M's [iv]

Unfortunately for Mars, the U.S. would enter WWII that same year, which quickly led to the rationing of sugar. However, Mars realized that another company was still able to make as much chocolate as they wanted: Hershey's. Mars quickly made a deal to partner with Bruce Murrie, the son of Hershey's president William F.R. Murrie, promising him a 20% share in the business in exchange for access to Hershey's chocolate.

Thus, M&M's® was born, with its name coming from the two men, Mars & Murrie.[v]

M&M's – The Real Deal [vi]

The U.S. government quickly realized the potential benefits of soldiers having a quick sweet snack that was small, easy to store, and would not melt in its package like normal chocolate. This led to M&M's being exclusively sold to the U.S. Army during WWII and added to the field rations soldiers received.[vii] This was especially beneficial to soldiers fighting in hot and humid environments, such as the Pacific theater.

Once WWII was over, the soldiers returned home with a love of the candy-coated chocolates, and M&M's began to be sold to the public. At this same time, differences between Mars & Murrie led to Mars buying out Murrie for his shares in the company.[viii] Even without the man lending the second “M” to the name, the M&M's brand was here to stay.

A Reproduction of a GI's Tent [ix]

Due to the popularity of M&M's, imposters quickly showed up with their own candy-coated chocolates, leading to confusion among the public. This led Mars to begin printing the famous “m” on each one of their candies, beginning in 1950, to ensure that the public always knew that they were getting the real thing.[x] M&M's continued to become more and more iconic throughout the 20th century, eventually leading to the candy being one of the first in space when astronauts on the first space shuttle, Columbia, requested them to be on their trip![xi] 

The Space Shuttle [xii]

Like the story of the cavity magnetron from the last article in this series, the story of M&M's has some important takeaways when it comes to intellectual property.

First, a new process for producing a product can be patented even if the product itself cannot be. In the case of M&M's, Mars knew that the existence of Smarties would likely keep him from patenting a candy-coated chocolate. However, by creating a new process to make these candies, he was able to get a patent. This means if you have a product that you do not think would be patentable, you still have the opportunity to pursue a patent if your process of producing the product is new and non-obvious.

Second, other forms of intellectual property, such as trademark or trade dress protection, can be extremely valuable. By printing the “m” on each piece of candy, M&M's made it clear to consumers that what they were buying was the real thing and not an imitator that might produce lower-quality candy. Thus, the “m” indicated the product as M&M's and the source of the goods as the Mars Candy Company.

How Gallium Law Can Help

Like M&M's in a GI's pocket, you do not have to melt away at the thought of navigating the patent system. We are here to help you, whether you are someone who thinks they might have accidentally invented something or someone who has spent years developing a chocolatey creation. To get in touch with us, please fill out this online form or call us at 651-256-9480 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. 

*The information in this article is not legal advice and should not be relied on. The content of this article is for informational purposes only and is meant as a starting point in your search for answers to your legal questions.

[ii] MIT claims that Forrest Mars was granted a patent; we have not been able to locate any record of this patent with the USPTO.

[iv] Image by Bruno from Pixabay

[vi] Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash 

[ix] Image by Eveline de Bruin from Pixabay

[xii] Image by NASA-Imagery from Pixabay

About the Author

Mike Bakke

Mike Bakke is a Registered Patent Agent at Gallium Law. Mike previously completed projects for Gallium Law as an independent contractor before being hired onto the team in 2023. While in graduate school, as well as during his time as an independent contractor, he also worked as a contractor at Sh...


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