This spring, Americans will enjoy an estimated 700 million marshmallow Peeps, making them, hands-down, the most popular non-chocolate Easter candy.

Produced in Bethlehem, Pa., these ooey, gooey, sugar-coated critters have found their way into Easter baskets for more than half a century.

Peeps can credit their fame to a man named Samuel Born. A Russian immigrant, Born opened a small candy shop in New York City in 1923. As his business grew, Born relocated to Bethlehem and named it “Just Born,” advertising the freshness of his product.

The company emerged a key player in the confectionary business and made several key acquisitions, one of which was the Rodda Candy Co. in Lancaster.

Although their unique way of making jelly beans was the reason Born acquired Rodda in 1953, it was the marshmallow chicks that held his greatest interest.

At that time, the chicks were handmade at the factory by squeezing marshmallow through pastry tubes.

It took 27 hours to make one little chick!

Born’s son, Bob, mechanized the process of forming marshmallows, and turned Just Born into the world’s largest manufacturer of innovative marshmallow treats.

Today, a Peeps chick is born every six minutes!

When Peeps are in production, armies of the puffy, sweet-smelling candies ride assembly lines day and night at the 500,000-square-foot-plant in Bethlehem, which employs approximately 500 associates.

Through the years, Peeps have been created in newer shapes and colors for various holidays, and also come in different flavors. There are even chocolate-dipped Peeps.

“We strive to understand our consumers and what they want so that we can introduce new items to expand their choices when buying their favorite candy brands,” said Just Born spokesperson Ellie Deardorff.

In 2009, the first Peeps & Co. store opened in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where both candy and merchandise can be found. Products can also be purchased at their recently-launched online store, www.peepsandcompany.com.

The company also has a family-friendly website, Peeps World, where users can play games, make art and find recipes at www.marshmallowpeeps.com

Deardorff said it is the great taste and the familiarity that continue to keep Peeps so popular.

“They evoke nostalgic feelings among fans,” she said. “Memories of their childhood Easter baskets and wanting to pass on the Peeps tradition to their own children, also contribute to their fame,” she said.

Peeps have grown so famous they have a cult-like following in many parts of the world where fans take part in everything from Peeps-based “science experiments” to movie releases like “Lord of the Peeps.”

There is also much debate on how to eat Peeps, be it stale, microwaved or frozen.

It really doesn’t matter if your favorites are the yellow chicks or the pink bunnies (or even blue or green), most fans agree there is just something about these fluffy little candies that symbolize all that is good about being a child.

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