Curtis Allina, the man most credited with popularizing the modern PEZ dispenser, is dead at 87. His family says the cause was heart failure. Allina, born in Prague in 1922, was the only member of his Sephardic Jewish family to survive the Holocaust. After the war, he traveled to New York, and began working for Pez-Haas, an Austrian company that made mints packaged in dispensers resembling cigarette lighters, and marketed as an alternative to smoking. In 1955, Allina had an idea.
The new generation of PEZ dispensers, with the candy reformulated in fruit flavors to appeal to children, were fully-molded, unlike the separate head-and-feet model we know today. It must have been a hard sell to his bosses in Austria, the New York Times notes, but Allina got the product on the street, and the rest is history. Did he invent the anthropomorphic heads that tilt back and dispense the sweet treat? “Who the hell knows,” a Pez historian says. “Who was more important in getting it done? Allina.”