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.

The Disputed Origins of Publix’s Chicken Tender Subs

Josh Hallett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Josh Hallett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

After Popeyes released its new chicken sandwich last week, a heated battle broke out on Twitter over which fast food chain offers the best one. Favorites included Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, and KFC, but the Publix chicken tender sub was mostly absent from the dialogue. Maybe it’s because Publix is a supermarket rather than a fast food restaurant, or maybe the southern chain is too specific to Florida and its neighboring states to warrant a national ranking.

Either way, the chicken tender sub is a cult culinary classic among Publix customers—there’s even an independently run website devoted to announcing when the subs are on sale (they aren’t right now), and affiliated Facebook and Twitter accounts with tens of thousands of followers. So whom do sub devotees have to thank for inventing the Publix food mashup from heaven? A Facebook user named Dave Charls says, “Me!,” but Publix begs to differ.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that in May of this year, a man named Dave Charls posted a message on the “Are Publix Chicken Tender Subs On Sale?” Facebook page recounting his origin story for the menu item, which allegedly took place in 1997 or 1998. At Charls explains it, he and his co-worker Kevin convinced their friend Philip, a deli worker at the Fleming Island Publix location, to assemble a sub with chicken tenders and ring it up as one item—something that deli workers had refused to do for Dave and Kevin in the past. According to Dave, Philip then convinced his manager to make it a special, publicized it via chalkboard sign, and the idea spread like hot sauce.

“You’re welcome,” Charls said. “It was actually Kevin’s idea and Philip brought it to life.”

Publix, however, told the Tampa Bay Times that its recorded documentation for a chicken tender sub recipe and procedure goes all the way back to 1992 or 1993. Based on that information, Publix spokesperson Brian West confirmed that Charls's heroic account of the origin is more fairytale than fact (though West, unfortunately, doesn’t have an equally thrilling origin story—or any story at all—with which to replace it).

Charls didn’t respond to a request from the Tampa Bay Times for comment, so we may never know how much of his claim is actually true. It’s possible, of course, that Publix’s 1992 (or 1993) chicken tender sub recipe hadn’t gained momentum by the time Kevin’s moment of culinary genius struck in 1997 (or 1998), and the lack of date specificity suggests that neither party knows exactly how it went down. What is incontrovertible, however, is the deliciousness of Publix's beloved sub sandwich.

"I'm just happy to live in the same timeline as this beautiful sandwich," says die-hard Pub Sub fan (and Mental Floss video producer/editor) Justin Dodd. “Copyright claims aside, it's truly a wonderful thing."

This London Pub Might Be the Most Ethical Bar in the World

Ridofranz/Getty Images
Ridofranz/Getty Images

Pub owner Randy Rampersad is doing his part for sustainability. In June, he opened the Green Vic—a play on the fictional Queen Vic pub in the soap opera EastEnders—in the East London neighborhood of Shoreditch. The Telegraph reports it’s aiming to be the world’s most ethical pub: Rampersad eschews plastic and paper straws and opts for gluten-free wheat “straws.” He sources the bar's 100 percent recycled toilet paper from green-minded company Who Gives a Crap, and the communal wooden tables are upcycled.

“I wanted to make the world a better place and run my own business, but I was waiting for that eureka moment,” Rampersad told The Telegraph. He discovered no one had done anything like this before.

There’s no meat on the menu—the food is totally vegan, healthy-ish pub grub. You can add CBD oil to the “chkn" bites appetizer, and the burgers are made from ingredients like soy, seaweed, and sweet potato. The beers are produced by ethical brewers, too: Toast Ale uses unsold loaves and crusts of bread; Good Things Brewing crafts its beer from 100 percent renewable energy; South Africa’s Afro Vegan Cider donates money to an organization that funds equal pay for female farmers; and Brewgooder donates to water projects.

In fact, everything the Green Vic does has charity in mind. “We don't care about the money, I’m planet first and profit after,” Rampersad told The Telegraph. Up to 80 percent of its profits will go to charitable causes, including local food banks. As for the staff, one in four are from marginalized groups. The Green Vic plans to operate as a three-month pop-up pub while scouting for longer term investment.

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