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Mars Candy founder has ties to Hancock

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In a tiny cemetery on the west edge of Lake Emily, there is a gravesite for Charley M. Mars. The son of S.S. and E. A. Mars, Charley died just one month short of his sixth birthday. The cause of death is unknown, but this gravesite is proof of something much more monumental: the birthplace for the founder of the Mars candy company actually is Hancock, Minn.

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Charley is not the founder, obviously, since he died so young, but he could just be the  younger brother of Frank C. Mars who was born in Walden Township, Pope County in 1883. Charley was born in 1885 and died in 1891.

The community of Hancock would like to recognize the Mars Candy connection during the upcoming July 4th celebration. The theme for the parade and festivities has been selected as “How Sweet It Is.”  

According to the history of Mars, the world’s largest candy company, Frank C. Mars was afflicted with polio as a young boy, and his mother, Alva, kept him home from school and entertained by allowing him to hand-dip chocolates, sparking his love of candy making.

As a young man, Mars tried selling molasses chips, but that first candy venture was a failure. Frank married Ethel G. Kissack, a school teacher, in 1902. Their son, Forrest Mars, Sr., was born in 1904 in Wadena, Minn. They divorced a few years later.

Frank then married Ethel Veronica Healy in 1910. That year the couple moved to Tacoma, Wash. and in 1911 started to make buttercream candy in their kitchen.  Soon they rented a candy factory and sold their candies wholesale along the West Coast. Patricia Mars was born to Frank and Ethel V.

In 1920, Mars moved his factory to Minneapolis, calling it the Nougat House. He renamed the company Mar-O-Bar, after his latest creation, but the Mar-O-Bar was too fragile to withstand transportation. Another candy, called Patricia Chocolates after his daughter, was developed during this time.

In 1923 Frank introduced his son Forrest’s idea, the Milky Way, which became the best selling candy bar. The bar took three years of research but was an instant success, termed a chocolate malted milk in a candy bar.

In 1929, the company moved again, this time to Chicago, specifically, River Forest. The company incorporated with 200 workers. Frank became an honorary captain of the Oak Park, Ill. police department.

In 1930, the Snickers candy bar was launched and was also a huge succes. Four years later Frank Mars died from heart problems at the age of 50. The ownership of the family business passed to his son Forrest.

Forrest moved the business in 1932 to the United Kingdom, furthering his dream of building a business based on “mutuality of benefits for all stakeholders.” A few years later the Mars Corporation entered the petcare business after acquiring the United Kingdom based Chappel Brothers LTD makers of Chappie dog food. They continue to sell petfood adding the Whiskas line of cat food in 1958.

In the candy line, M & Ms were launched in 1941 and the frozen snack bar, Dove Chocolate in 1986. They acquired the Wrigley Gum Co. in 2008 and also have a rice division known as Uncle Ben’s.

By 1929, Mars’ state-of-the-art plant was producing more than 20 million candy bars a year. According to Candy Industry magazine, the company’s global sales in 2011 topped $16 billion, all from a humble start in Hancock, Minn.

While ever so small, the Mars connection is shown to be accurate by a tiny grave for a tiny person in the Lake Emily Cemetery that is over 122 years old.

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