Some of you may remember back to the time when Pop Rocks was first introduced by General Foods in 1975 and the first time you felt those snaps, zings, cracks, and pops on your tongue like little cherry-flavored fireworks.  To our young minds, this now classic candy was an amazing novelty because we had never experienced a candy quite like it before. Sure there were candies that fizzed like Zotz, but never one that made the inside of your mouth feel like AM radio sounds during a thunderstorm.

Remember that time when Gilligan was actually an AM radio receiver?

Maybe what made it seem like no candy ever before was because it was made like no other candy before.  To make Pop Rocks, sugar is first dissolved in water and the mixture is then heated to 320°F, evaporating the water from the mixture until the water content is around 3%. After this, the mixture is cooled off a bit to a temperature of 280°F, it’s stirred at incredible speeds while 730 pounds per square inch of pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2) is forced into it. As the mixture remains pressurized it cools and hardens trapping the CO2 bubbles to remain inside until it finally shatters into different-sized pieces. These CO2 bubbles are what make Pop Rocks pop once the candy starts dissolving in your mouth and releases the bubbles.

CO2 is also the fizzy stuff that’s found in soda and sparkling water.

The concept might have seemed novel to our young, sugar and disco-driven minds back in the late 1970s, but research chemists Leon T. Kremzner and William A. Mitchell had actually patented Pop Rocks for General Foods way back in 1962 when they were looking for a way to make a powdered carbonated drink. Nevertheless, when it was introduced in 1975, Pop Rocks became an immediate sensation selling 500 million packets in its first year-and-a-half on the market, outselling other confections 10 to 1. However, it seems whenever something is so good and well-liked by the public, rumors and conspiracy theories unfortunately start spreading like wildfire.  For General Foods and Pop Rocks, it was the story of Mikey.

“Hey, Mikey!

“Mikey” was actually 11-year-old child-actor John Gilchrist . Gilchrists’ claim to fame came when he was around the age of four and he starred in a 1972 television advertisement for Life cereal. In the commercial, he played a little boy named Mikey whose two older brothers sort of used him as a guinea-pig to see if Life tasted good because it was supposed to be good for you. They get Mikey to try it because “he hates everything.” When Mikey eats a spoonful and continues eating another, then another, he affirms that Life cereal does actually taste good even though it “S’post to be good for ya.” One of his brothers exclaims, “He likes it! Hey Mikey!” and all three boys end up eating Life cereal at the end of the commercial.

Fast-forward to 1979 and Gilchrist, then 11, is playing a game of catch at the neighborhood ball park. Inside the house, the phone rings and John’s mother answers, but at first she barely makes out what the person on the other end of the phone is saying because they are sobbing uncontrollably.  Then it’s clear: “I’m so sorry to hear about your son!” the stranger bellowed.

“What do you mean?” asked a shocked Ms. Gilchrist. “He just came home from school and now he’s playing ball over at the park.”

Ms. Gilchrist hung-up the phone, confused. She had John’s older brother go over and check on him. That’s when John “Mikey” Gilchrest and his family found out he had become the victim of a wild rumor that went something like: 

“Hey, remember that little boy who played Mikey in those Life commercials? Turns out he’s dead. Yep. He was eating some of those newfangled Pop Rocks candy when he downed six packs at once then followed it up with a six-pack of Coca-Cola. Seconds after he finished his last soda, his stomach exploded.”

The truth, of course, is nothing like that ever happened. At first, General Foods took on the rumors by placing newspaper advertisements in 45 cities across the nation, refuting the idea and claiming the candy was “safe and fun”. However, it was too late.  Sales of the once popular candy fell 24% by the last quarter of 1979. The next year the company stopped making Pop Rocks and halted all production of candy, getting out of the business altogether.

As you can see, Mikey (John Gilchrist) is, indeed, very much alive with all of his innards intact.

Around 1983, Kraft Foods licensed the Pop Rocks brand to Zeta Espacial S.A. which continues manufacturing the product after eventually buying the brand outright.  Today, Pop Rocks is distributed in America through the Atlanta, Georgia, Pop Rocks, Inc. and through Zeta Espacial S.A. in Barcelona, Spain for the rest of the world.

However, even after it was re-introduced to the market, the rumors that it could cause your stomach to explode still persisted until Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman from the popular Discovery Channel series MythBusters finally put the rumor to rest after first putting it to the test. They mixed six packs of Pop Rocks with a six-pack of cola with enough hydrochloric acid to simulate a human stomach inside the belly of a pig. The result? The pig’s stomach expanded three times its size but never exploded.

Now that you know what happened to one of your favorite childhood candies, let’s pop on over to your local Stuckey’s. There, you’ll still find all of your pecan favorites like our world famous Stuckey’s pecan log rolls and pecan divinity. And speaking of popping, don’t forget some of your popcorn favorites and absolutely mouthwateringly delicious flavored pecans to take along with you on your next road trip.

Whether it’s our newest Stuckey’s location in Perry, Georgia, or the information superhighway every trip is still a pleasure trip when you stop at Stuckey’s. For more Stuckey’s merchandise shop online at stuckeys.com.

“Breaker 1-9, I’m gonna pull this here 18-wheeler over and see what’s poppin’ at Stuckey’s, Y’all want any souvenirs while I’m here, over??”

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!