A Short and Sweet History of the Whitman's Sampler

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iStock

From 1942 to 1945, the factory workers of the Whitman candy empire in Philadelphia helped ship well over 6 million pounds of free chocolate to soldiers stationed overseas. Tucked inside their Whitman’s Sampler boxes—a rectangular package of assorted chocolate treats—were handwritten notes of support from the women working the factory’s conveyor belts.

To get a stash of candy was one thing, but to know someone back home was wishing you well was another. When the soldiers returned home and caught sight of the familiar cross-stitched packaging, a sale was almost guaranteed.

Patriotism was just one of the ways the Whitman’s Sampler became virtually as iconic a candy presence as the Hershey bar. From its debut in 1912, the Sampler has been the leading candy gift item, taking up residence on tables during the holidays, on Valentine’s Day, and on virtually any occasion that could use a stash of coconut or cherries dripping in chocolate. And thanks to some very deliberate marketing, that’s no accident.

Whitman’s was the brainchild of Stephen F. Whitman, a Quaker who opened a confectionary store in Philadelphia in 1842 [PDF]. Sensing demand by sailors for candies that stood up to the expensive European treats they were accustomed to, Whitman introduced a line of gourmet chocolates. Through changes in leadership—to his son, Horace, and eventually to president Walter Sharp in the early 1900s—Whitman’s soon arrived on the Sampler, which was packaged using a design inspired by a cross-stitching sampler that hung in Sharp’s house. (In needlework, samplers are made to show off a stitcher's skills.)

Whether consumers were amused by the double meaning or not, Whitman’s Sampler quickly became the company’s signature product. The boxes were wrapped in cellophane, a means of keeping the treats fresh that also made for a distinctive store presence. (For years, Whitman’s was the largest user of cellophane in America.) In 1945, the company developed a “French edge,” extending the lines of the cover and bottom outside the lines of the box.

Thanks to its unique packaging and wartime support, Whitman’s was ubiquitous in stores. But the company didn’t stop there. Beginning in the 1950s, they struck deals with popular film stars of the era to endorse the candy in ads for The Saturday Evening Post.

A Whitman's Sampler magazine advertisement
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Actors like Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and Elizabeth Taylor were depicted with Whitman’s Samplers in hand. In exchange, the spots would plug whatever current movie the star wanted to promote. It was an ideal arrangement, and one that further embroidered Whitman’s into the American consciousness. In the ads, Whitman’s would play up the idea of gifting someone with the chocolates as a romantic gesture. “A Woman Never Forgets the Man Who Remembers,” read one slogan.

Whitman’s enthusiasts may have been enticed by the ads, but it was the product that impressed them. Unlike many boxed chocolates of the era, the company printed an index on the underside of the lid so people wouldn’t have to stick their fingers into the candy, or take a bite, to determine what was inside.

While it comes in a variety of sizes and assortments, today the Sampler is largely unchanged from its 20th century roots. The company, now owned by Russell-Stover, has reported that roughly a billion boxes have been sold since 1912. It also seems more than deserving of its romantic reputation: Those wartime messages to troops resulted in many long-term friendships and more than a few marriages.

To Avoid Grocery Shopping, Quarantined Americans Are Reviving Wartime-Era Victory Gardens

Zbynek Pospisil/iStock via Getty Images
Zbynek Pospisil/iStock via Getty Images

For many people practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the supermarket is the one place where it's practically impossible to avoid crowds. When they do brave the stores, shoppers may struggle to find what they're looking for, with panic buyers clearing shelves of everything from pasta to produce. Though the circumstances are different, citizens across the country are responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak by reviving a trend from the First and Second World Wars. As The New York Times reports, victory gardens are making a comeback.

Victory gardens started in 1917 as a way to supplement the commercial farming disrupted by World War I. As farmers became soldiers and farms became battlefields in Europe, the U.S. agricultural industry suddenly found itself responsible for feeding its own citizens as well as its allies abroad. Encouraging people to plant crops in any available space they could find—including rooftops, parks, backyards, empty lots, and fire escapes—was a way to lighten the burden.

The U.S. government formed the National War Garden Commission weeks before joining the war. Over the next couple of years, pamphlets were distributed to citizens showing them which seeds to plant and how to protect them from pests and diseases. One booklet read “The War Garden of 1918 must become the Victory Garden of 1919.”

Thanks to the effort, 3 million new gardens were cultivated in America in 1917 and 5.2 million appeared in 1918. The initiative resurfaced during World War II, and again, it was a huge success. At its peak, home and community gardens were producing nearly 40 percent of all fresh vegetables in the country.

For more than 70 years, victory gardens only existed as a footnote in history books, but now, they're seeing a resurgence. The U.S. isn't at war, and as of now there's no risk of the country running out of food, but the chaos and fear surrounding trips to the grocery stores are inspiring many people to turn to their own backyards. As many industries are struggling, seed companies are seeing a spike in business. Organizations dedicated to gardening are also seeing the trends. Soul Fire Farm in upstate New York normally builds about 10 community gardens outside homes, schools, and churches a year. But since the start of the novel coronavirus crisis, they've received 50 requests for community gardens.

A home garden is only useful in times of national hardship if it actually produces something. If you're interested in building a sustainable home garden and limiting your trips to the supermarket, here are some easy plants to start with and gardening mistakes to avoid.

[h/t The New York Times]

America’s 10 Most Hated Easter Candies

Peeps are all out of cluck when it comes to confectionery popularity contests.
Peeps are all out of cluck when it comes to confectionery popularity contests.
William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Whether you celebrate Easter as a religious holiday or not, it’s an opportune time to welcome the sunny, flora-filled season of spring with a basket or two of your favorite candy. And when it comes to deciding which Easter-themed confections belong in that basket, people have pretty strong opinions.

This year, CandyStore.com surveyed more than 19,000 customers to find out which sugary treats are widely considered the worst. If you’re a traditionalist, this may come as a shock: Cadbury Creme Eggs, Peeps, and solid chocolate bunnies are the top three on the list, and generic jelly beans landed in the ninth spot. While Peeps have long been polarizing, it’s a little surprising that the other three classics have so few supporters. Based on some comments left by participants, it seems like people are just really particular about the distinctions between certain types of candy.

Generic jelly beans, for example, were deemed old and bland, but people adore gourmet jelly beans, which were the fifth most popular Easter candy. Similarly, people thought Cadbury Creme Eggs were messy and low-quality, while Cadbury Mini Eggs—which topped the list of best candies—were considered inexplicably delicious and even “addictive.” And many candy lovers prefer hollow chocolate bunnies to solid ones, which people explained were simply “too much.” One participant even likened solid bunnies to bricks.

candystore.com's worst easter candies
The pretty pastel shades of bunny corn don't seem to be fooling the large contingent of candy corn haters.
CandyStore.com

If there’s one undeniable takeaway from the list of worst candies, it’s that a large portion of the population isn’t keen on chewy marshmallow treats in general. The eighth spot went to Hot Tamales Peeps, and Brach’s Marshmallow Chicks & Rabbits—which one person christened “the zombie bunny catacomb statue candy”—sits at number six.

Take a look at the full list below, and read more enlightening (and entertaining) survey comments here.

  1. Cadbury Creme Eggs
  1. Peeps
  1. Solid chocolate bunnies
  1. Bunny Corn
  1. Marshmallow Chicks & Rabbits
  1. Chocolate crosses
  1. Twix Eggs
  1. Hot Tamales Peeps
  1. Generic jelly beans
  1. Fluffy Stuff Cotton Tails

[h/t CandyStore.com]

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