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The Surprising Origins of Your Favorite Snacks

woman holding colorful cotton candy in front of face
Kan bokeh/Shutterstock

The next you visit the grocery store, take a moment to peruse the snack aisle. Feast your eyes on row upon row of every mouth-watering goodie you can imagine, from cheesy chips to chocolate-covered peanuts. America has a thing for snacks, and frankly, we know how to make them well. But do you know the origins of your favorite munchies? The stories are pretty interesting.


Doritos started out as Disneyland “trash.” No seriously, they were trash. Soon after Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt Disney gave the founder of Frito-Lay permission to open a Mexican-American restaurant in Frontierland called “Casa de Fritos.” The restaurant’s focus was to incorporate Fritos into as many dishes as possible. The restaurant went through several tortillas in order to cover the dishes on their menu, and the story goes that one day, someone making a delivery noticed some stale tortillas lying around and advised the owner to fry them and sell them as chips instead of throwing them away.

Casa de Fritos took the advice and started selling fried and seasoned tortilla chips as part of their menu, which ended up being a great success. Frito-Lay eventually expanded the idea with Doritos, the gold nuggets we know and love today.


Nabisco released Oreo cookies in 1912 as part of a trio of biscuits that also included the Mother Goose and Veronese Biscuits. However, Oreos quickly became the favorite, so they outlasted the other two.

This beloved treat—known for bringing people together for a snack of cookies and milk—is actually rooted in a deep family feud. Jacob and Joseph Loose were brothers who owned a corporation called the American Biscuit and Manufacturing Company. In 1897, Jacob, the company’s president, became so ill that he had to take a temporary furlough. During that time, Joseph decided on his own to merge their company with its two largest competitors, the New York Biscuit Company and the United States Baking Company to form the National Biscuit Company aka Nabisco.

Jacob’s health recovered, but the brothers’ relationship never did. Jacob decided to form another new company called the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, but it never became quite as successful as Nabisco.


Forest Mars Sr. of the Mars candy empire created M&Ms in 1941. The idea for the small, circular chocolate pieces came to him in the 1930s when he visited Spain during the Spanish Civil War and saw soldiers eating candies with a hard shell of tempered chocolate on the outside to prevent them from melting.

After World War II began, Mars anticipated that heavy U.S. involvement would give rise to a chocolate shortage and struck a deal with Bruce Murrie—the son of Hershey’s president, William Murrie. (M&M stands for Mars and Murrie, by the way). Together, they decided to create a hard-shelled candy with a chocolate center that could survive the impending chocolate shortage and would ration well due to resistance to melting.

M&M’s have since become one of the most popular candies in the country.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

A man named Harry Burnett Reese invented this popular chocolate-covered peanut butter treat. After marrying in 1900, he went on to have 16 children. Struggling to support them all, he took any job he could find. In 1917, he found one on the dairy farm of Milton S. Hershey, a man who also owned the Hershey Chocolate Company.

After working on the farm for several years, Reese was transferred to the chocolate factory. Inspired by the candy there, he started making his own confections. He made homemade candies in his basement as a way to provide a little extra income for his family. When his sweets sold better than he expected, he began selling them to local markets and officially set up the H.B. Reese Candy Company by late 1920.

In 1928, Reese started selling chocolate and peanut butter confections he called “penny cups”—because they sold for just a penny each. Soon Reese was able to quit his job at the Hershey factory to build his own business based on the success of his candy creations. Hershey later bought the company for $23.5 million in 1963.

Cotton Candy

The idea for cotton candy originated in Renaissance Italy, where chefs would manually melt and pull candy into thin strands with forks. This was the only way to make this treat until the 19th century, when a dentist called Dr. William Morrison teamed up with a candy-maker named John C. Wharton to invent a machine that heated sugar in a spinning bowl with holes in the side. As the sugar inside caramelized, it would channel out through the tiny holes, transformed into light, fluffy strands.

Presented at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, the candy was dubbed “Fairy Floss.” Morrison and Wharton sold 68,000 boxes of it over a six-month period. A candy store soon purchased the machine and started mass-producing the confection.


Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Listverse and Introvert, Dear, and she is currently working on her first novel. When she's not breaking down complex topics into readable material, she loves to stay on the lighter side and blog about Disney and Universal parks on . Read Full Bio »