Walter P. Sharp

Walter P. Sharp

Class of 2005

Walter became the third president of Stephen F. Whitman & Son in 1911 after serving many years with the company in various sales positions. He is recognized as a significant driving force behind the growth and success of what would become Whitman’s Chocolates.

In 1907, under the direction of Walter, Whitman’s established its own national sales organization for direct distribution on a national level. The company began to target “better drug stores,” and place products with only one druggist per town.

In 1911, he developed the Fussy Package For Fastidious Folks, a package that is still used today. That year also marked the beginning of Whitman’s “money back guarantee,” a practice that was not supported by other manufacturers at the time.

Walter’s dynamic presence was particularly felt in 1912 when he personally and without the help of art professionals, advertising agents or marketing departments, created the Whitman’s Sampler, which became an overnight success. Each Sampler box came with a chart naming the different kinds of candy and their location in the box. Legend has it the graphics on the box were inspired by an actual stitching sampler that hung on the wall of Walter’s grandmother’s house.

The expansion of national distribution for the brand, along with innovation such as national advertising in color media, completed the combination of new ideas that propelled the Sampler and Whitman’s to its high level of acceptance under Walter’s guidance.

“The Whitman’s Sampler is an important piece of America,” says John O’Hara, vice-president of marketing for Russell Stover Candies, which now owns Whitman’s Chocolates. “Everybody has an old Whitman’s Sampler somewhere – in their Mom’s closet or their grandmother’s attic – filled with old buttons or photographs. For some folks, it means an awful lot to get such a box of candy, even today.”

“The biggest part of the Sampler tradition,” says Tom Ward, president and CEO of Russell Stover, “is the giving and receiving part, and the memories that go along with that. It’s all about tradition. After Christmas, our second biggest holiday is Valentine’s Day, and the tradition of the Whitman’s Sampler is a huge part of that.”