Portrait of William Luden

William Luden

Class of 2013

WILLIAM H. LUDEN was born March 5, 1859, to Dutch immigrants Sarah and Jacob, in Reading, PA. He had five siblings: Edward, Jacob, Caroline, Sallie and one who died in infancy.

He left school at age 15 to become an apprentice candymaker at Color & Barret. After five years with the company, he struck out on his own, developing”moshie,”a hard candy made in his mother’s kitchen from molasses and brown sugar.

In 1881, he developed the first menthol cough drops with the help of a local pharmacist, which would eventually make the Luden name nationally recognized. While his products were held in high regard, it was William’s innovative thinking that really moved the business forward. He convinced retailers to display and sell his lozenges directly instead of selling door-to-door as was the practice at the time. William also introduced new packaging methods, such as lining his boxes with wax paper to extend shelf life.

In a marvel of early word-of-mouth marketing, he gave samples of his throat drops to workers on the Reading Railroad, who in turn spread the Luden name throughout the railroad network and beyond.

Just one year later in 1882, William expanded his product line to include hard and soft candies, marshmallow items and chocolate. Products such as mellomints, marshmallow peanuts, root beer barrels, sour balls, chocolate-covered cherries, butter scotch wafers, jelly beans and starlight mints became staples in the company’s portfolio, proving he was an all-around confectioner.

The success of the items required him to upgrade his manufacturing facilities in Reading several times to increase production.

In 1889, he married Annie Ritter, daughter of Reading Adler newspaper publisher Edward Ritter. Together they had eight children. Following the death of his first wife, William married Catherine Fasig in 1916.

When William eventually retired in 1927, his products were available in nearly 26 countries. The following year, he sold the company to Food Industries of Philadelphia for $6.5 million.

In addition to being a forefather of the confectionery industry, he was also a renowned philanthropist, serving as benefactor to the Boys Home and the Olivet Boys Club. He also established scholarships and pension plans for his employees.

William passed in Atlantic City in May 1949 at the age of 90 from a heart attack. Since 1881, the Luden brand has expanded to include nine varieties available in seven flavors in both the traditional Luden’s box as well as bags. Today, the 130-year-old brand is owned by Prestige Brands Holdings, Inc.