Who Is The 'Reese' Of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups?

From Chef Boyardee to Mrs. Fields, many food products have a famous name attached to them. But while some even have faces to go along with them, like Little Debbie, who was in fact a real person, others are entirely fictional. Betty Crocker, for example, was made up by the advertising team of the company that is now General Mills. But what about the famous candy brand Reese's?

While we now associate the name Reese's with peanut butter cups, the truth is, the confectionary company was once known for its chocolate bars, which went by two different names when they first came out — Lizzie Bars and Johnny Bars — not Reese's Bars. You might assume that the company was simply tossing around a few random names early on before eventually settling on its current one, but Lizzie and Johnny were actually named after the children of a man named Harry Burnett Reese, who really was the founder of Reese's.

Harry Burnett Reese was a former Hershey employee

Though nowadays Reese's Cups and Hershey's bars sit right next to each other in the candy aisle, there was a point where Hershey's was considerably more well known. Hershey had already been selling candy bars for 19 years when Harry Burnett Reese decided to start his candy business. After a failed first attempt, Reese saved up enough money to try again and began making and selling candy out of his basement, all the while working in the shipping room of the Hershey Chocolate Factory.

During this time, Reese sold Lizzie Bars, made with caramel and coconut covered in chocolate, as well as Johnny Bars, made with molasses. But it wasn't until years later that Reese would use peanut butter as an ingredient in his candies. After getting enough sales to move production out of his basement and into an actual factory, Reese went on to invent the now iconic Reese's peanut butter cups in 1928.

How did Harry Burnett Reese come up with Reese's cups?

According to a Reese's commercial from 1979, Reese's Cups were invented when a cowboy fell off his horse and accidentally dropped his chocolate bar into another cowboy's jar of peanut butter. While the commercial is an obvious dramatization, it's true that Reese's Cups weren't the subject of long-term recipe development. Peanut butter cups were already a popular candy before Reese's Cups came about. The only thing H.B. Reese did was make his own peanut butter using peanuts that were roasted until they were nearly burned.

During World War II, when sugar and chocolate were in short supply, Reese was able to remain in business because of the peanut butter cups he sold. Whereas chocolate bars and hard candies required mass amounts of two heavily rationed ingredients, peanut butter cups required mostly peanut butter, which was readily available. It was from this point that Reese decided to focus primarily on peanut butter cups. The product contributed to much of Reese's success, and in 1963, the former Hershey employee's company was actually sold to Hershey in a merger for 666,316 shares of common stock, which at the time amounted to more than $24 million.