How The Candy Bar Became A War Icon

in Candy Blog

A candy bar has this profound ability to make life a little better.

We all know this and so does the U.S. Military. 

Since the early 1920’s, the U.S. Military has had a hyperfocus on providing those who serve overseas with a moral and caffeine boost in the form of candy bars.

It actually began during the Revolutionary War when George Washington was looking for a way to give his soldiers a quick burst of energy. After chewing on a few pieces of chocolate, it was noted that their energy levels had shot up and they were ready to keep pushing forward.

Propel this practice into the 1920’s and 1930’s and you start to see a massive trend across global military units. In Great Britain, Cadbury was producing insane amounts of chocolate bars and sending them to troops fighting all over the world.

In the United States, an explosion of confectionary companies stepped up to the plate, trying to topple the candy juggernaut Hershey’s. For most of this era, Hershey’s had dominated the development, production, and distribution of candy, specifically chocolate bars, to the U.S. Military.

It started with large 20lb slabs of chocolate getting sent overseas and being divided up amongst different units for consumption. After struggling with the intense heat, which led to melting, Hershey’s looked for another way to deliver the same candy experience, without leaving a soldier's hands with the sticky substance.

In comes the “D-Ration”...

The year was 1937 and the U.S. Military was looking for a way to again boost morale, caffeine, and sugar in their soldiers. After spending the better half of the 20’s working with a variety of confectionery creators around the U.S. they partnered directly with Hershey’s to develop a bar that the military could use exclusively. 

Colonel Paul Logan led this effort with Hershey’s asking them to produce a candy bar that consisted of 4 key elements: 

  • Had to weigh under 4 oz. 
  • Be high in energy food value (ie sugar and caffeine)
  • Not melt under high temperatures and storage. 
  • Taste better than a boiled potato (to prevent soldiers from eating their emergency rations in non-emergency situations.) 

After some good-old research and development, Hershey’s came back to Colonel Logan with the Field Ration D, also known as the “D-Ration Bar”.



It consisted of ​​chocolate, sugar, oat flour, cacao fat, skim milk powder, and artificial flavoring. The result was a 4oz block of dark brown chocolate that was heat resistant up to 120 degrees fahrenheit and was packaged in sets of three that added up to roughly 1,800 calories of rations.

Logan was a fan, and immediately began field testing the product in different segments of the military including Panama, the Texas Border, even some expeditions to Antarctica. 

Fast forward to the second World War and Congress was looking to shut down the production of military confections citing it as non-essential. Milton Hershey refused to let it fly, deeming it a vital source of nutrition for the nation’s troops. After some debate, the production of military candy rations continued.

The U.S. Military’s candy crew…

From the years of 1940-1945, the majority of Hershey’s work was focused on the military. It is estimated that they produced roughly 3 billion units of specialty candy bars that were sent to U.S. troops all over the world. That’s right, 3 billion!

When 1943 rolled around, soldiers began to show some serious distaste for the D-Ration Bar and the government took note. Going back to Hershey’s they came out with the “Tropical Bar”. Similar to its parent the D-Ration, this bar had just about the same ingredients with some added flavor.

Reviews amongst the troops didn’t go down well, and the Tropical Bar was limited in production until the recipe was changed in 1957.

Look out for Mars…

While Hershey’s continued to dominate most of the military contracts throughout this period of time, one confectionary company sought to change up the ways soldier’s consumed sweets, while also making it easier to store them.

We all know Mars—they’ve spearheaded the development of some of the greatest candy bars known to man, including the Snickers, Twix, Milky Way, and Dove. But what most don’t know is that the original recipe for the M&M was also created inside the Mars production plant and intended for the U.S. Military. 

In 1941, M&M’s were developed with the sole purpose of serving soldiers. 



You’ve heard the saying, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” right? Thinking about it, if you’re in the 100-degree jungle, can you imagine how hard it is to eat a melted chocolate bar? 

The M&M was the perfect solution to deliver the same effects that chocolate bars would without all of the melting madness. They were an instant success and production of the M&Ms, and later on Peanut M&Ms, went into full swing exclusively for the military. 

Upon their return from war, soldiers found themselves hooked on the colorful confections that were found in their MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) and eager to get their hands on more of them. 

Fast forward to 2021, and you can still find M&Ms inside MREs amongst different divisions of the armed forces.They are usually sprinkled into a few different ration meals and best believe they’re still one of the hottest items up for meal trade amongst those who serve.

Just check out this soldier who reviews different MRE packages and gets his hands on a bag of M&Ms that he can’t help but scarf down. 

Sweetness serves everyone…

It’s wild to think the same candy that you and I grew up eating has also served as a critical component to the U.S. Military for over 80 years. Sure, the ingredients may have changed a little, and with that a few new additions, but the sentiment was always there—make life a little sweeter.

And that’s what we want to do for you...

Though you can find MREs with candy for sale from a variety of stores, we recommend snatching up your favorite sweets, including Hershey’s Chocolate Bars and M&Ms from our candy aisles by clicking the button right here

We also want to extend our continuous thank you to all those who have served and are currently serving in the armed forces by giving them a special gift when they decide to snag some sweets from OldTimeCandy.

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