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Centennial

Ageless at 100 — Whitman’s Sampler

America’s most famous box of chocolates celebrates its centennial

April 25, 2012
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whitmans samplerWith its classic yellow box featuring cross-stitched edges, the Whitman’s Sampler has been giving the impression that it’s been around forever — but it’s this year that it actually turns 100.

“The original 1912 package had an aged, yet ageless look suggesting the box had been around for 100 years, giving first-time buyers a sense of confidence in their gift choice,” says Russell Stover Candy Co., owner of the brand.

In addition to smart branding, the makers of the Sampler also had a few other tricks up their sleeve, which helped the product become the icon it is today. The box of chocolates were the first product in the United States to be wrapped in cellophane and every box included an index showing each candy inside — now a boxed chocolate standard.

The ideas worked. By 1915, just three years after its debut, more than 19,000 independent drug stores sold the Whitman’s Sampler. Today, one Sampler is sold every 2.5 seconds, and and it’s estimated that 1 billion Samplers have been devoured since 1912. Many of the empty boxes don’t end up in the trash though, but rather as the perfect container for keepsakes.

To celebrate the longevity, Russell Stover is looking for Whitman’s Sampler peers. Anyone born before 1912, can enter to receive a “Kiss Me, I’m 100” hat and a Jumbo Whitman’s Sampler, as part of the “Kiss Me, I’m 100 Giveaway”.

In the past though, the company relied on ads created by illustrators and photographers, as well as catchy slogans, such as “A Woman Never Forgets the Man Who Remembers!” and “Here’s How I Remember! Why Don’t You?”

The latter was heavily pushed in the 1950s when the company would hire movie stars including John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, and Elizabeth Taylor to promote the chocolates. But the agreements weren’t the sort of endorsement deals you’d think of today. Rather, the stars were paid in Samplers and a mention of their upcoming movie, Russell Stover says.

The Sampler also has a serious side. It’s traditionally given as a gift from the U.S. President to guests who visit the White House and those traveling on Air Force One. And, during World War II, handwritten notes of encouragement were packed into Samplerboxes and sent to fighting troops, a tradition that continued in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In 1991, it even was added to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in recognition of its place in American history.

Even after meeting the centennial milestone though, the Sampler is still down-right young compared to the company that created it, Whitman’s Candies. Founded in 1842 when 19-year-old Stephen F. Whitman set up a small confectionery and fruit shop on the Philadelphia waterfront, the company evolved into a national confectionery icon. It was acquired by Kansas City-based Russell Stover in 1993.  Today, Whitman’s chocolates and confections are manufactured at factories in Abilene, Kan.; Iola, Kan.; Montrose, Colo.; and Corsicana, Texas.

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