In 1988, his final year in office, Reagan decided it was time to change things up. He wrote to the M&M Mars Company requesting custom boxes of the popular candy, a full 16 years before the candy maker introduced customized M&M's to the general public. Reagan asked that the boxes be ready in time for the Moscow Summit -- a four-day meeting with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss human rights and nuclear weapons. What better than small candy-coated chocolate pieces to oil the gears of nuclear disarmament? First Lady Nancy Reagan disembarked off Air Force One in Russia and handed out the patriotic boxes of M&M's to Russian children. (An added benefit of switching to M&M's, Costello points out, is that they're something you can give to children, unlike cigarettes.) Today, you can bid on a box still filled with the original M&M's for a cool $12.99.
The first lady, who coined the anti-drug phrase "Just Say No," also saw the Moscow Summit as the perfect moment to just say no to cigarettes entirely and banished them from Air Force One. A woman on a mission, she also managed to make the White House and other places the president frequented, such as Camp David, smoke-free environments. The country's future would no longer be decided in the proverbial smoke-filled room.
All of the cigarette packs on the plane and on the ground were quickly replaced with boxes of M&M's. While not exactly a nicotine fix, eating handfuls of M&M's gave smokers something to do on Air Force One. "If you were on a flight and you were a smoker, you wanted a pack of cigarettes," says Evan Phifer, research historian at the White House Historical Association. "To pass time on the flight, or while you were working on something else, now you would eat M&M's instead of smoking."
When you think about it, Reagan picking M&M's as a replacement for Jelly Bellys made perfect sense. Like jelly beans, M&M's are colorful and can be eaten by the fistful. During Reagan's era, M&M's were also the No. 1 leading candy brand in the country (and still are today). The candy choice is also a very patriotic one: M&M's were invented during World War II for soldiers. They needed a dessert that wouldn't melt during transport -- it's hard to fight off the enemy with your hands covered in goopy chocolate. The solution? Chocolate pieces wrapped in a candy-coated shell.