My sweet Grandmother had a sweet tooth.
Whether Bartons, Barricini, or Lofts, chocolate was the common currency of celebration.
But Mothers Day meant only one thing- a Whitman’s Sampler.
Through the years, that gift of chocolate has become more closely associated with America’s Mothers Day than any other.
Every year at the precise moment the azaleas burst open in a blaze of color, my extended family gathered in our suburban backyard to celebrate Mothers Day. Along with a corsage, my grandmother Nana Sadie, always received a Whitman’s Sampler in honor of the holiday.
Between bites of rich chocolate nougat, Nana Sadie delighted in rhapsodizing about her life long love of chocolate in general and Whitman’s Sampler in particular. It was the same story year after year, relishing the telling as much as the chocolate.
In 1912 when Nana was 12 years old, Whitman’s launched its famous Sampler. Nana would explain how she would eye the pretty yellow box in the window display of Gussmans Pharmacy the fanciest Drug Store on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. The yellow cross stitched designed box had an aged yet timeless look, as though it had been around for decades. Imagining the luscious treats that lay hidden in the box, had made her mouth water.
Two year would pass, Nana would continue, when one day in May of 1914 President Wilson declared the first Mothers Day as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war. “Sadly,” Nana would shake her head commenting, “in just a few years who knew how many thousands of mothers would lose their own sons to The Great War.”
A Woman Never Forgets The Man Who Remembers
It wasn’t long before a marriage of merchandising and holiday heaven was born.
The following May 1915, Nana’s up-to-date father came home with a genuine Whitman’s Sampler box tucked under his arm and proudly gave it to Sadie’s mother. Squinting at the unfamiliar box, my Great Grandmother’s search for the familiar seal of approval was futile. No union of Rabbis had sanctioned these chocolate nuggets as kosher, so my very observant Jewish Great Grandmother, rolled her eyes and politely offered the box and its scrumptious contents to her welcoming children. Contrary to Whitman’s popular slogan, in future years my embarrassed Great Grandfather would remember to forget Whitman’s for his wife.
Sitting on the front steps of their wrap around porch Nana and her 7 brothers and sisters eyed the candy box in wonder.
Such a selection! Piped chocolate whorls, flakes of coconut, round shapes filled with mysterious somethings, rectangles shapes hiding everything from nuts to pralines to assorted fillings.
A 15-year-old Sadie was in chocolate heaven. Her mother might forget the candy but Nana would long remember.
Life is Like a A Box of Chocolates
Decades later, the sharing of Mothers Day melt-in-your-mouth chocolates became a family ritual as my grandmother would offer sweets to her eager grandchildren gathered around her.
Part of the ritual was the opening of the box itself.
Getting to the goodies themselves was a treasure hunt, leaving us salivating with anticipation until the first perfect square was lifted from the brimming box. Nana would carefully remove the outer cellophane wrapper – the first cellophane ever used in candy packaging she would remind us.
Opening the lid revealed what is known as the “Pillow Puff” liner made out of embossed paper protecting the chocolates below.
On the bottom of the lid was the “treasure map” of the contents of the box, that would direct you to your chocolate dream. Donning her reading glasses, Nana would read aloud to us from the placement chart that would lead you through the maze of 14 varieties of perfect pleasure with names such as toffee chip, cashew cluster, almond nougat, pecan cluster, coconut, chocolate truffle, and cherry cordial.
Nana’s first choice was always the Molasses Chew, the most distinctive piece in the box and worthy of the guest of honor. Covered in smooth dark chocolate with fancy white zigzag stripes, it was filled with nougat.
While cousins fought over chewy caramel squares and the chocolate covered nuts shining with confectioners glaze got scooped up by my brother, I zeroed in on the cherry cordial, its plump maraschino cherry swimming in sugary syrup, encased in milk chocolate.
An incurable pack rat, Nana Sadie loved Whitman’s as much for the iconic yellow box as for the chocolate goodies inside.
The candies long gone, the empty box would be saved for all kinds of flotsam and jetsam, objects evocative and sentimental, mementos never mentioned in a will or bequest, that eventually found their way to her grandchildren.
Among the treasures were the bundles of saved Mothers Day Cards she had saved over decades and never had the heart to throw out. A most appropriate resting place.
Yes, there was Brooklyn’s own Bartons for Passover but Mothers Day meant Whitman’s.
A Sampling of Whitman’s Ads
In 1939 Whitman’s launched Samplers most famous advertising campaign “A Woman Never Forgets The Man Who Remembers” the campaign remained popular for 2 decades.
“There’s no hurt like forgetting and no joy like being remembered”. Vintage Mothers Day Whitman’s Candy advertisement 1940
Between 1942 and 1945 Whitman’s sent 6 million pounds of chocolates to overseas servicemen in Land, Sea and Air tins. Women on Whitman’s production lines slipped notes into boxes to comfort fighting men. Many of these letters resulted in long-term friendships and even some post-war marriages, resulting in future Mother day celebrations.
“Her Day, Her Family, Her Chocolates” Vintage Whitman’s Advertisement for Mothers Day 1946
“Remember Mothers Day With Whitman’s” Vintage Whitman’s advertisement 1951
Vintage Whitman’s Ad 1947
Have a wonderful Mother’s Day Sally!
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Same to you Dianne
Dear Sally, Joyous Mother’s Day! Hope you are remembering special times spent with mom and grandma.
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I keep memories of my grandmother and my mother very close to my heart every day!
People who lived in California were lucky enough to get a box of See’s chocolates instead; Whitman’s was the “dime-store” brand picked up at the last minute by those who forgot to buy their chocolate ahead of time. And yes, my mother kept my numerous plaid or striped hair bows in a 2 lb See’s chocolate box. The great thing about giving your mother or grandmother chocolate was that you always got a piece or two yourself! Thanks for the memories!
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I love to get regional history, thanks for sharing!
Fascinating. I had no idea of the history behind Whitman’s Sampler. Yay chocolate 🙂
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One doesn’t need a holiday for chocolate!!