Posts tagged ‘Pickaninny Peppermints’

Whitman’s and Wilbur’s at the Candy Counter, 1913

In it’s May 1913 issue, the trade journal International Confectioner featured some of the five and ten cent packages offered by the better known candy makers. Such packaging of candy was still relatively novel; not every candy was put up in its own wrapping, and a lot of candy was put in bags or fancier boxes at the time of purchase, requiring the service of a clerk. The editor introduced the feature with some comments on the virtues of these new packages (as well as some run on sentences):

These are the goods that sell themselves, as they lay upon the retailers’ counter, the customer cannot help picking one up and paying his money, the reason is, that they look so tempting and are so easily bought; for it must be remembered that the public is extremely lazy and will sometimes not even take the trouble to ask the price.

Most of the goods featured are from manufacturers long gone. But two are still around today: H. O. Wilbur and Son, and Stephen F. Whitman, both of Philadelphia. Today, Wilbur is owned by Cargill, and Whitman’s by Russell Stover, but the brand and the tradition of each go way back into the nineteeth century.

So what were these venerable confectioners selling one hundred years ago in the five and ten cent lines?

Here are some of Wilbur’s offerings. The Wilbur Bud (2) was a huge success of course: little cones of chocolate wrapped in foil. But Wilbur also made a line of eating chocolates, as pictured here. The depiction of the little cherub stirring the chocolate is especially charming. The editor points out that these confections are well known since Wilbur had, by 1912, been selling chocolates for thirty years. Wilbur’s American Milk Chocolate (1) is “one of the first milk chocolates made in this country.” Wilbur’s Sweet Clover Chocolate was “advertised for outdoors and for the camper, hunter, etc.,” a rugged image at odds with the dainty wrapper. The Milk Chocolate is a five cent bar, the rest are ten cents.

Today we associate the name “Whitman’s” with the Whitman’s Sampler, that box of mixed chocolate candies that everyone has given and received at least once. But here we see Whitman’s with a full assortment of offerings, including spice gum drops, nut nougat (in vanilla, chocolate or strawberry), Jordan almonds (assorted flavors), cream cocoanut bar, “Mallo-Caros” (caramel with marshmallow center) and the unfortunate and embarrassing “Pickaninny Peppermints.”

About those Pickaninny Peppermints: stylized and stereotypical images of African Americans were not uncommon in the packaging and advertising of goods in the twentieth century. Truly, it was not until the Civil Rights movement that such images became widely regarded as prejudiced and unacceptable. My first impulse was just to not post this, as it feels offensive to our sense of civility and mutual respect for every citizen. But this is what it was, not always pretty. It’s worth noting that such images did not appear very frequently in candy packaging, at least not in the sources that I have had access to.

Wikipedia’s entry on Whitman  Candies tells the rest of the story of Pickaninny Peppermints:

In the early 20th century, Pickaninny Peppermints were a popular Whitman confection. However, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and, at the time, NAACP lawyer took issue with the name. In a 1941 article directed at Whitman’s published in the Afro-American, Marshall urged Whitman’s Candies to realize its racial insensitivity. Whitman’s denied that the term “pickaninny” was racist and responded to Marshall by saying that it meant “cute colored kid.” Despite this, the product was soon dropped. (Reference: Baltimore Afro-American, Nov. 22 1941, p.1)

For more on Wilbur and the Wilbur Buds, see my posts: Kissing Cousins: the Hershey’s Kiss and the Wilbur Bud and Hershey’s: Why a Kiss is Just a Kiss

April 9, 2010 at 8:25 am 1 comment


Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

Samira Kawash, PhD
Professor Emerita,
Rutgers University

(C) Samira Kawash

All written contents protected by copyright. Except where noted, Candy Professor is my original research, based on archives, journals, magazines, newspapers, and other historical artifacts. You do not have permission to copy or re-post my content. If you want to refer to my work, please create a link from the blog entry and also write out the citation:
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