Museum Artifact: Snickers Candy Bar Display Box, 1958
Made By: Mars Incorporated, 2019 N. Oak Park Ave, Chicago, IL [Galewood]
Chocolate, though universally appealing, is not a universal language. In the United Kingdom, for example—as many confused Americans learn every day—the "Mars Bar" is basically their version of a Milky Way, while their Milky Way tastes more like a 3 Musketeers (a brand that doesn't exist overseas). Even the Snickers bar—that beloved icon of nougat, peanuts, and caramel—was sold to Brits as the “Marathon” bar until 1990. When you consider that all of these incongruous products are actually made by the same company, the mighty Mars Inc., the question (often rhetorical) becomes, “What’s up with that?” Well, surprisingly enough, there actually is a good answer, and it has its roots in a family feud dating back more than 75 years.
I. The Mars Men
Still consistently ranked among the top ten largest privately owned companies, of any kind, in the world, Mars Incorporated ($33 billion revenue in 2015) stands in stark contrast to the many beloved but long-defunct Chicago confectioners of yore—a graveyard of ex-rivals that includes Curtiss, Bunte, Reed, Peerless, etc. So monstrous is the Mars empire, in fact, that it recently absorbed one of Chicago’s other international giants, the Wrigley Company, with the casual “why not” attitude of an impulse buy at the grocery store. This acquisition added a slate of leading gum brands to a Mars line of products that already included the country’s top selling candy (M&M’s) and candy bar (Snickers), plus shopping cart staples like Uncle Ben’s Rice and Pedigree and Whiskas pet food.
Naturally, a corporation of this size—with a century of history in its rearview—has generated plenty of attention and analysis over the years. But while most billionaire industrialists would have been thrilled to share their corporate success stories with the world, the Mars family, quite notoriously, maintained the privacy of a desert island hermit—unwilling to give interviews, have photos taken, or allow anyone (potential spies) to tour the Mars factories. Their massive wealth, similarly, was never flaunted with eye-catching extravagances.
“The ability to be secretive is one of the finest benefits of having a private company,” third-generation company president Forrest Mars Jr. said in a rare address at Duke University in 1988. “Privacy at times today seems like a relic of the non-media past, but it is a legal right - morally and ethically proper and even desirable - and a key to healthy, normal living. It allows us to do the very best we can, the very best we know how, and to do so without being concerned with self-aggrandizement.”
Paradoxically, the silent nature of the Mars men only made them the focus of more intrigue with each subsequent decade of industry dominance, as a long line-up of journalists tried to unravel the mystery of the company’s temperamental, eccentric, and possibly ingenious patriarch, Forrest Mars Sr. From the time he took over full control of Mars Inc. in 1964 to his death at age 95 in 1999, Forrest Sr. made sure everyone in his orbit—from the janitorial staff to his own children—adhered to the same rules. Punch the clock. Do your job. And don’t talk about fight club.
But the Mars galaxy didn’t always operate that way.
In fact, the history of Mars Inc. is told far too often as one single narrative thread—the classic American family dynasty—when it really more closely resembles a “tale of two cities,” or at least two wholly distinct and separate businesses.
The American version of the Mars company, and the one born in Britain, were separated for decades by both a literal and metaphorical ocean. On one continent was the original founder of the business, Frank C. Mars—whose lavish, country-club style factory in Chicago had an open-door policy to the world. On the other was his son Forrest Sr., banished to England for insubordination, but determined to build a Mars candy company on his own terms, thoroughly shrouded from the public eye. These polarized but parallel entities would eventually re-converge, but not with any happy family reconciliations. Mars might be the fourth planet from the sun, but before that, lest we forget, it was the Roman god of war.
II: Is There Life on Mars?
Like any good multi-billion dollar company worth its salt, Mars Inc. began in the most humble of fashions—with early days spent scrounging for cash in some of the colder corners of the country.
Around the turn of the century, Franklin Clarence Mars (b. 1882)—a polio survivor and son of a gristmill worker—was working as a chips salesman in Wadena, Minnesota, trying meagerly to support a wife, Ethel, and their young child, Forrest. Looking for a new opportunity, Frank soon moved his family across the country to Tacoma, Washington, where his struggles only continued. By 1910, Ethel had run out of patience. She divorced Frank, citing his failure to provide for the family, then—due to her own limitations—sent 6 year-old Forrest to live with his grandparents in Saskatchewan, where he would spend most of his youth. One can surmise that the idiosyncrasies and insecurities of Forrest Mars Sr.—and his bitter feelings toward his father—were forged in the years that followed.
While young Forrest maintained a warm correspondence with his mother during his Canadian exile, he also endured a strict Episcopalian upbringing with her parents. Frank Mars’s failures to pay ample child support or serve any active role in his son’s life also fed a growing wound.
Frank wasn’t necessarily the classic deadbeat dad, however. He was still trying his damndest, it seems, to redeem himself
By 1914, Frank had invested all his energy (and dwindling capital) into a DIY candy business, sticking to the trade even after another string of failures nearly ruined him. During his years in Tacoma and Seattle, Frank learned enough hard lessons to make the transition from candy seller to experienced candymaker, and his personal line of butter cream candies—made in his own kitchen—gained a small following. By the end of World War I, he moved back to Minnesota with his second wife (also named Ethel) and started producing candies under “The Nougat House” name. Frank also created the Mar-O-Bar, his first attempt at cashing in on the country’s exploding post-war obsession with the chocolate bar. It did well enough to give Frank Mars his first firm footing in the industry, but sales were mostly regional and still dwarfed by the likes of the Hershey Bar and Baby Ruth.
It was around this time that Frank's son Forrest suddenly re-entered the picture.
III. Milky Way or the Highway
In 1922, according to at least one myth, Frank Mars invited his now 18 year-old son—a student at Cal-Berkeley—to come to the Twin Cities and chat about the budding “family business.” They hadn’t seen each face to face in years.
In the most colorful but thoroughly unsubstantiated version of the meeting that followed, dad and son sit down at a local diner and awkwardly catch up over a couple malt drinks. Frank brings Forrest up to speed on his new Mar-O-Bar Company, and the pros and cons of the Mar-O-Bar itself—how it tastes great, but doesn’t transport well. Forrest, unimpressed, makes his own spur-of-the-moment suggestion: Why don’t you make a candy bar version of a malt drink?
“I was just saying anything that entered my head," Forrest Mars Sr. later claimed, as quoted in the only known published interview he ever gave (a 1966 issue of Candy Industry & Confectioner’s Journal). “And I'll be damned if a short time afterwards, he has a candy bar. And it's a chocolate malted drink. He put some caramel on top of it, and some chocolate around it - not very good chocolate, he was buying cheap chocolate - but that damn thing sold. No advertising.”
Yes, if there was only thing Forrest Mars wanted the world to know about his family, it’s that it was Forrest himself—not his neerdowell father Frank—who invented the famous Milky Way Bar; the foundational element of the entire Mars empire.
Who knows, maybe that’s exactly how it really went down. Or maybe Forrest Mars was still carrying some bitter, teenage abandonment issues into his later years. Either way, as of 2017, the official story on the Mars corporate website now claims that the Milky Way, “a chocolate malted milk in a candy bar,” was introduced by Frank and his son Forrest Sr. in 1923 “after three years of research.” The description elicits images of father and son working shoulder to shoulder in lab coats, pouring malt milk into bunsen burners. We can safely assume that this was not, in fact, the case.
Irrespective of its origins, the Milky Way was a monster, reaching $800,000 in sales in its first year—not bad for a 10-cent chunk of chocolate that cost half as much to produce as most of its competitors. At the age of 42, Frank Mars finally had hit the bigtime, and he wasted no time basking in all the perks that 1920s high society had to offer.
While young Forrest was off studying industrial engineering at Yale, his dad was transforming the former Mar-O-Bar Company into Mars Incorporated, complete with a major move from Minnesota down to… well, Chicago, of course (you knew this had to become geographically relevant to our studies at some point).
IV. The Chicago Plant
In 1928, a year before the stock market crash would only amplify its comparative opulence, the new Mars factory was completed on Oak Park Avenue in Chicago’s Galewood neighborhood. Frank Mars’s goal was to build the “most beautiful” candy plant in America, and by most accounts, he certainly seemed to have a solid claim to the title.
Built on 16 acres of land purchased from the former Westward Ho Golf Club, the Mars facility—which is still standing today as one the company’s North American Chocolate Division facilities—was unlike any other manufacturing plant of its time, or any time since, really.
[The Mars plant at 2019 N. Oak Park Ave., 1950s and present day]
Chicago Tribune reporter Al Chase summed up the factory on the occasion of its 25th anniversary in 1953. At the time, it still purported to be the largest candy plant in the world.
“The Spanish type structure is an outstanding bit of architecture, and it stands in a beautiful setting of brilliant green bent grass, beds of flowers, shrubs, and towering trees.
“A casual passersby who didn't know what it was probably would think it a fashionable club or some important institution—never a factory. The tinted walls, rich red tile roofs, two-story high curved top windows, and a long canopy extending 100 feet or more from the main entrance to the sidewalk, give no hint of manufacturing activities.
“Even after one steps through wide, inviting doors into the big, high ceilinged lobby, the illusion of ease instead of labor persists. Fine oil paintings are hanging on throughout the general offices. Oriental rugs are scattered about. Except for the sound of assembly line production sifting through from the manufacturing area, one still never would guess it was part of a manufacturing plant.”
Frank and Ethel No. 2 weren’t just spending their Milky Way money on swank factories, either. Unlike the generations that would follow them, these Martians had no shame about visibly waving their wealth flags. The candy power couple owned a Duesenberg town car worth $20,000 (a ridiculous $260,000 in modern cash) and were gleefully chauffeured around Chicagoland, from the factory grounds to as far north as their new palatial estate in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Like many of the other leading Chicago tycoons of the period, Frank Mars also jumped into the ranching and horse breeding game, employing 100 people to run his nearly 3,000 acre “Milky Way Farms” in Tennessee.
With his fortune made, Frank seemed to lose a bit of his motivation when it came to new confection inventions. That responsibility was largely handed off to his "chief experimental candy maker" Thomas Dattalo (1895-1966), a former Mar-O-Bar employee who'd made the move down to Chi-Town with his boss.
According to his granddaughter Rosanne Eiternick, Dattalo had a much bigger role in the early days of Mars than he's ever been given credit for. "Mars had the money," she told us, "my grandfather knew how to make candy."
As Rosanne's family tells it, Thomas Dattalo and his nephew James Dattalo were there from the beginning, living in a house Frank Mars had purchased for them on Oak Park Avenue just down the road from the plant. While Thomas ran the candy lab, James worked with the landscaping crew on the factory grounds, then gradually got his daily lessons on all aspects of the confectionery trade. Years later, in 1963, James would open up his own candy shop in Old Town, the Fudge Pot, which is still in business today, operated by James's son, Dave Dattalo.
[Former Mars employee James Dattalo, son of original chief candy maker Thomas Dattalo, standing outside his own business, the Fudge Pot on Wells Street, 1960s]
Such fuzzy tales of generational succession only seem more quaint when compared to the mess that was the Mars family dynamic.
Case in point, the very same year that Frank Mars and the Dattalos opened up the new Chicago factory/resort, an unexpected new employee also joined the fold—the fresh Yale graduate Forrest Mars. I suppose it's certainly possible that both father and son were genuinely committed to finally patching up their tenuous relationship and working together for the good of the family. It’s also possible that Forrest saw a lucrative opportunity to dive straight into the deep end of corporate America, using nepotism or fatherly guilt as his bridge. Either way, things were never destined to go smoothly.
V: Mars vs Mars
Right off the bat, the new Mars partnership was faced with the brutal uncertainty of the market crash and the threat of a total economic depression. To make matters worse, Frank’s old-school solutions for keeping the business afloat bared little resemblance to Forrest’s fresh Ivy League sensibilities and militant preference for efficiency over “beauty.”
The duo managed to do a few things right during this tumultuous period, including the co-invention of the Snickers Bar, named for one of Frank Mars’s prized race horses. The formula basically just added peanuts to the Milky Way blueprint, but the change was enough to turn Snickers into one of the best selling candies of all time.
In typical Frank Mars fashion, there wasn’t a great deal of focus on advertising the Snickers bar in its early years. By the time Mars Inc. was sending out display boxes like the one in our museum collection (1958), however, Snickers had achieved stardom through a new sort of marketing medium—TV commercials. Little has changed in the 60 years since.
[Snickers TV commercial from 1954]
The third big Mars home-run of the Frank + Forrest era was the 3 Musketeers bar, rolled out in 1932. It was so named because the original design included three separate pieces—one vanilla, one strawberry, and one chocolate. Restrictions during WWII eventually cut the production down to just chocolate, and so it would stay.
Forrest Mars, meanwhile, was already on the outs in Chicago. After several years butting heads with his father about the best way to run the business—and demanding ownership of one-third of Mars Inc. for himself—Forrest had driven Frank up the wall.
“This company isn’t big enough for the both of us,” Frank supposedly told his son (a oft-cited quote that seems far too theatrical to be real). “Go to some other country and start your own business!”
If Frank Mars really did say this, it seems doubly insensitive, considering it’d mark the second time he’d essentially banished his son to a foreign land. This time around, however, Forrest Mars was more than happy to take on the challenge.
“I told my dad to stick the business up his ass,” Forrest brashly told the Candy Industry & Confectioner’s Journal in 1966. “If he didn't want to give me one-third right then, I said I'm leaving. He said leave, so I left.”
Forrest forgot to mention that he also had a wife, Audrey, and a young child, Forrest Jr., at the time. So, technically, he should have said “we left.” But anyway, the destination was England. And thus the alternative / bizarro / thoroughly British version of Mars Candy was about to be let loose upon the world.
[Factory workers at the Mars candy plant in Slough, England, c. 1930s]
VI. Mars, Bringer of War (The UK Version)
Yes, the simplest way to explain why the Mars Bar (rather than the Milky Way) is so prominent in England, or why the Snickers bar went by another name, is that there were, essentially, two separate Mars companies in operation during much of the 20th century.
Way back in 1932, Forrest Mars Sr.—essentially kicked out of America for being a wise ass—was given a couple parting gifts by his papa on the way to the airport: $50,000 in cash and the patent rights to sell the Milky Way bar formula in Great Britain. Frank Mars might not have seen eye to eye with his kid, but he clearly respected Forrest’s skills and potential as a businessman. The banishment, perhaps, was his version of a helpful kick in the pants (or trousers, if we’re keeping with appropriate UK terminology)
Noting the preferences of British candy lovers, Forrest got started by tweaking the original Milky Way formula to add a little extra sweetness. He called his creation the "Mars Bar," and introduced it to the UK market in 1932. Production was initially based out of a small factory in the city of Slough (home of the Wernham Hogg Paper Company in The Office), employing just the 12 people he could afford with his dad’s financial aid. When the Mars Bar proved every bit as popular with the Brits as the Milky Way was with the Yanks, however, Forrest suddenly was the well-to-do captain of his own substantial organization—taking orders from nobody at age 28.
One one hand, the young ex-pat mogul was achieving a stunning level of success in the midst of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, Forrest was also fueling himself on a sort of maniacal urge to outdo his father (or some other inner demons), and he began running an increasingly tight ship at his UK factory, often lashing out at employees for the slightest misstep.
Then, just two years into his time in England, Forrest got word from back home. Frank Mars was dead at the age of 52.
No one can know for sure how Forrest processed the news, but it’s believed he didn’t bother flying home for the funeral. He also soon learned that his father had left the majority of Mars Inc. in the hands of his second wife, Ethel 2, along with their daughter Patricia. The father-son war, it turned out, couldn’t even end in death.
[In 1936, two years after Frank Mars's death, Mars Inc. in Chicago debuted its own "Mars Bar," featuring toasted almonds—a totally different formula from the Mars Bar that Forrest Mars was selling in the UK. The cross-Atlantic confusion had officially begun.]
VII: "Not In Your Hand"
It would take another three decades for Forrest Mars to finally reclaim what he believed to be his birthright—total ownership of Mars Incorporated USA. In the meantime, though, he managed to build a global company (eventually known as Food Manufacturers Inc.) that actually outclassed the American Mars mothership in nearly every department.
It was Forrest who hatched the idea for Uncle Ben’s rice. It was Forrest who revolutionized packaged pet food in an era when most British families still fed their cats and dogs table scraps. And it was Forrest who went into business with Bruce Murrie, son of the Hershey Company president, to create a new type of miniature round chocolates with a hard candy shell coating—the M&M. Today, these are all touted as accomplishments of Mars Inc. But before Forrest Mars agreed to merge his own businesses under the Mars banner in 1964, those properties were thoroughly his own—part of the Food Manufacturers Inc. family.
In that sense, then, the Chicago-Mars story in the years after Frank Mars’s death is one of comparative stagnation. In the 1940s, while Forrest was back in the U.S. market producing M&M candies in New Jersey and Uncle Ben’s in Texas, the old Mars Inc. plant in Chicago was merely holding steady—selling the same marquee candy bars with little expansion.
Even after the death of Ethel Mars (the second one) in 1945, Forrest Mars remained just a minority owner in his father’s company, as his half-sister Patricia held the power. Patricia, in turn, decided to leave her uncle William Kruppenbacher as CEO of Mars Inc., fanning the flames of Forrest’s rage all the more.
“Slip,” as Kruppenbacher was known to colleagues, was a capable businessman himself, and he did guide the company through much of the Depression and the war. He also understood the benefits of good advertising a bit more than Frank had, and took some bold steps in that arena, including a Mars sponsorship of what would become of the country’s most popular radio and TV quiz shows, “Dr. IQ.”
Unfortunately for Kruppenbacher, he also spent much of the ‘40s and ‘50s dealing with the looming presence of Forrest Mars—who remained hell bent on taking over his dad’s company. Even when the profits of Food Manufacturers Inc. surpassed that of Mars Inc. in the early 1950s, Forrest was never swayed from his ultimate goal. It was clearly a matter of principles, and with his minority stake and seats on the board, Forrest took advantage of every opportunity to hound Kruppenbacher and push his own ideas on how Mars Inc. should be run. He even had his own office in the Chicago plant, allowing him to see the day-to-day of the company’s operations firsthand, looming over old loyalists of his dad like chief candy maker Thomas Dattalo.
"When Forrest Mars came back," Dattallo's grandaughter Rosanne Eiternick says, "he claimed all the rights of the candy making and closed off all the information towards the history of the company. . . . We feel our grandfather got the raw deal."
As the power struggle waged on, Forrest Mars Sr. seemed to have less and less patience with the people around him, no matter which plant he was stalking. In her book The Emperors of Chocolate, author Joel Glenn Brenner described the increasingly gloomy atmosphere at the M&M factory in New Jersey, where Forrest had long since run his old business partner Murrie out of town.
“Explosive fits of screaming and cursing pierced the order of the factory floor several times a day. It seemed anything could set [Mars] off when he arrived at the factory. An employee who forgot to wash his hands, a messy pile of papers on a salesman’s desk, or a speck of chocolate on a uniform could send him reeling into an abusive rage. Most workers eventually learned to shrug off these episodes, waiting patiently with heads bowed until the blood rushed out of Forrest’s face and the taunts and name-calling ceased, almost as abruptly as they had begun.”
According to one former employee, Forrest Sr. “treated everybody in the world like they were stupid—except him.”
[Mars CEO William Kruppenbacher, second from right, checking out some new machinery in the Mars plant in 1959. He'd quit his post shortly thereafter.]
Kruppenbacher, like Murrie and the Dattalos before him, finally had enough in 1959, retiring and leaving the CEO position to Patricia Mars's third husband, James Fleming. It soon became clear, however, that Fleming was out of his element. Mars Inc. started going in the wrong direction.
With few other obvious candidates waiting in the wings, and Patricia herself diagnosed with cancer, the unavoidable moment had finally arrived. Forrest Mars bought out the remaining stock and became the new president and CEO of Frank Mars’s old candy company in 1964, simultaneously merging Food Manufacturers Inc. and its properties under the Mars name, as well. There was now one and only one Mars Inc. worldwide.
The friendly corporate version of events might make it sound like a proud legacy was merely carrying on through the family line, but it’s worth emphasizing that Forrest Mars Sr. had to buy Mars Inc. rather than inherit it. And while he did bring his own sons into the business, those relationships proved no warmer than the one he’s experienced with his own dad.
VIII: Forrest for the Trees
One might have hoped that Forrest Mars Sr. would have found some peace by the age of 60. But he had no intentions of celebrating his hard fought victory by letting Mars Inc. carry on as it for the past 40 years. His arrival at the Chicago factory as the company’s new CEO became the stuff of legend.
Here’s how Fortune magazine recounted the event several years later in a 1967 company profile:
"[Forrest] Mars did not just walk into the room; he charged in. His ring of hair was gray around his gleaming scalp, but he still had the athletic stance of a much younger man. He wore an English suit with wide lapels, and his tie was unstylishly wider still. 'We didn't know if he was ahead of the times, or behind,' recalls a participant. After a few quips, which sparked a little dutiful laughter, Mars talked of his plans and hopes for the Mars Candies Division, as the Chicago operation was henceforth to be known. He paused. 'I'm a religious man,' he said abruptly (he's an Episcopalian). There was another long pause, while his new associates pondered the significance of his statement. Their mystification increased when Mars sank to his knees at the head of the long conference table. Some of those present thought that he was groping on the floor for a pencil that had slipped from his hands. From his semi-kneeling position, Mars began a strange litany: 'I pray for Milky Way. I pray for Snickers…' "
It was immediately clear to the Chicago workers that it wasn’t going to be business as usual from that point forward. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
While Forrest Mars spent much of his first year eliminating some of the fancier and cuddlier elements of the Chicago plant and offices—goodbye, stained glass windows, wall paintings, executive dining room, PR events, etc.—he didn’t forget to appease his employees in other ways. Salaries were raised for workers at all levels, and benefits and bonuses were improved. The factory was kept cleaner and made more efficient by the installation of new machines and technology, and all employees—regardless of their position—ate lunches together and punched the same clock.
["American Dairy Princess" Bonnie Sue Houghtaling tours the Chicago Mars Candy plant in 1961, guided by factory superintendent Donald McDonald (center). Tours like this were virtually eliminated once Forrest Mars took over the company in 1964]
It wasn’t necessarily that Forrest was more compassionate than his predecessors. As the Fortune article noted, it was simply about “applying mathematics to economic problems.” With good wages and benefit programs, the hardline conservative Mars was able to bust unions and keep Mars Inc. free of labor movement rumblings. And by keeping everyone on the same level in the factory ecosystem, the management team would never rest on its laurels either.
As no surprise to Mars himself, the changes paid off.
With the Mars Inc. world headquarters now located in suburban Washington D.C. (and Chicago serving as a candy bar hub), Forrest Sr. started focusing on expanding factory development in Europe during the 1960s, to great effect. In the U.S., the Hershey Company, as always, remained the primary competition in the chocolate business. But by producing its own chocolate and peanuts completely in-house for the first time, Mars Inc. was able to cut costs and move past its Pennsylvania rival for the majority of the years to come.
Meanwhile, most of America’s smaller candy makers were disappearing or merging to try and hold onto any niche in the market they could. In 1965 alone, three of Mars Inc.’s old Chicago contemporaries were purchased by larger corporations—Williamson Candy (by Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical), E.J. Brach & Sons (by American Home Products), and Reed Candy Co. (by P. Lorillard). With fading competition and the power of M&Ms, Snickers, Milky Way, and 3 Musketeers—all top ten sellers in the industry—Mars became the undisputed mega-power in confections.
And yet… as ever, Forrest Mars Sr. was a deeply dissatisfied man.
IX: Mars Attacks
In the late 1960s, as his sons Forrest Jr. and John Mars took on larger roles in the company, employees described very tense relationships between the three men, with Forrest Sr. often berating his children much as he did the workers at the M&M plant years earlier.
According to one former Mars worker, Forrest Mars Sr. “was terrible” to his sons. “He would shout and call them dumb and stupid. He would harangue them over the smallest detail. Everyone in the room would fall silent, and you could hear him screaming all the way into the factory. It was horribly embarrassing.”
A Mars profile in a 2001 issue of Biography Today further describes a moment during a 1964 company meeting when Forrest Sr. angrily ordered one of his sons “to kneel on the floor and pray for the future of the company. He then resumed the meeting, leaving the young man to kneel silently on the floor for an hour in front of his co-workers. The son reportedly rose to his feet only after his father called an end to the meeting and walked out of the conference room.”
Forrest Mars Sr. had also developed a deep distrust of people and increasingly refused to share any information about himself or his company. Some believe the attitude dated back to the 1940s, when a magazine article about his company’s success with Uncle Ben’s Rice led to the U.S. government asking Mars for the recipe (they were hoping to duplicate it for military use). If you reveal details about your products, he now believed, it only opened the door to others taking advantage of you.
Even in 1966, when Mars finally agreed to do that interview with Candy Industry and Confectioner’s Journal (largely to gloat about taking over Mars Inc.), he reportedly was so furious about being misquoted in the article that he wrote off all media contact for his family AND Mars employees from that point forward.
The madness of King Mars didn’t conclude with his retirement from the company in 1973. Instead, he proved unwilling to completely walk away from the multi-billion dollar machine he’d engineered for so long. When his sons finally refused to deal with him any further, Mars Sr. started a new candy business, Ethel M Chocolates (named for his mother, Frank Mars’s first wife Ethel), in Henderson, Nevada.
Throughout the 1980s, Forrest Sr. not only went to work everyday at the Ethel M factory, he lived there—an elderly man staring down on his factory employees from a penthouse office with one-way glass windows. They came to call him the “Phantom of the Candy Factory.” In a complete reversal from his old philosophy, Mars also wanted the Ethel M plant run as a tourist attraction to draw more revenue. Its lavish gardens, not unlike those maintained back at the Oak Park plant in Chicago, welcomed thousands every year—not that any guest ever caught a glimpse of the phantom.
In 1990, shortly after the death of his wife Audrey, Forrest Sr. sold Ethel M to his children at Mars Inc.—including his daughter Jacqueline, who had joined the family business. All of them were billionaires and among the 50 wealthiest Americans. But, like the generation before, money had not been enough to heal old wounds.
Mars Inc. refused to share any information about Forrest Mars Sr. with the media throughout the 1990s, only acknowledging the great businessman had still been alive when they formally announced his death in 1999. Employees supposedly had learned to avoid mentioning the father’s name around his kids—even when the kids themselves had reached retirement age.
[M&Ms World in Las Vegas, 2014]
Still, for all the animosity, Forrest Mars Jr. and John Mars—much like the grandfather they never really knew—had an undeniable respect for Forrest Mars Sr. as a strategist, manager, and innovator. They followed his belief in absolute privacy, and they trained future leaders of the company in the so-called “Five Principles” of the Mars business: Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom. They didn't suffer fools easily, and in the most commonly cited example of their perfectionist nature, they made human employees taste test the pet food.
Mars Inc. was criticized through the end of the 20th century for everything from the obesity epidemic to animal testing and skimping on charitable contributions, but through it all, the business’s global reputation remained largely undamaged, and its profits continued to grow.
In a nice sign of change, the company’s fourth generation of leadership, with Victoria Mars as Chairman and Grant F. Reid (a rare outsider) as CEO, has shown signs of creating more direct involvement with the community and giving people a look behind the curtain. Mars continues to maintain a strong presence in Chicagoland, as well, with its various Wrigley corporate offices joining the old Galewood plant employing hundreds of locals.
Unlike eating a Snickers bar, the Mars Inc. story doesn’t always satisfy. It wasn’t the rags to riches tale of a Norman Rockwell family, nor do the heroes of the story always elicit our sympathy. Like a Mars Bar posing as a Milky Way, things aren’t always what their packages would suggest. But once you can see it for what it really is, it may prove admirable in some other ways you never anticipated.
[Early Snickers wrapper design from 1939]
Corporate Cultures and Global Brands, edited by Albrecht Rothacher
"Forrest Mars Sr.," Biography Today: Scientists and Inventors Series, 2001
Mars.com "About Us" Timeline
"The Sweet, Secret World of Forrest Mars," Fortune Magazine, 1967
"Standard Set By Mars Plant Built in 1928," Chicago Tribune, Nov 15, 1953
"The Candy Man," The Guardian, 1999
"Sweet Secrets: Opening Doors on the Very Private Lives of the Billionaire Mars Family," The Washingtonian, 1996
"Life in Mars: Reclusive Dynasty Behind One of World's Most Famous Brands," The Guardian, 2008
On Leadership, by Allan Leighton, 2007
"Life on Mars: The Mars Family Saga has All the Classic Elements," by Joel Glenn Brenner, The Independent, 1992
The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, by Joel Glenn Brenner, 2000
Bitter Chocolate: Investigating The Dark Side Of The World's Most Seductive Sweet, by Carol Off
Crisis in Candyland: Melting the Chocolate Shell of the Mars Family Empire, by Jan Pottker, 1995