Just a decade after H.O. Wilbur & Sons formed as a dedicated chocolate manufacturer in Philadelphia, the Wilbur Bud was born in 1894. The delectable little chocolate drop, designed to resemble a flower bud, quickly gained legions of fans—and even some veryhigh-profile imitators!
Here in 2019, the creamy, smooth Wilbur Bud remains a favorite cherished by those who appreciate premium chocolate. A prized gift for most any occasion among family and friends in the Lancaster County region, we’re excited to celebrate the beloved Bud’s 125th birthday this year!
But how did Wilbur get from fin de siècle Philly to 21st century Lititz, PA (aka, America’s Coolest Small Town) and beyond? Join us as we take a look back at the changing face of Wilbur Chocolate—and at the little Bud that has remained the same through the centuries!
A little taste of a rich chocolate history
Like many successful American enterprises with deep historical roots, H.O. Wilbur & Sons—maker of cocoa and chocolate products beginning in 1884—was born from an entirely different venture.
As the Civil War was ending in 1865, entrepreneur Henry Oscar Wilbur took a chance on a business opportunity with partner Samuel Croft that came with the rise of the railroads—producing molasses and hard candies for sale on passenger trains. Success came easily to Wilbur & Croft, and they expanded within the city of Philadelphia several times in just under 30 years, also adding chocolate-making capabilities to their operations.
The Wilbur family – dedicated to chocolate
As H.O. was moving toward retirement, it was decided to spin off the chocolate business in 1884 (the elder Wilbur would retire in 1887). This move elevated sons William Nelson Wilbur and Harry L. Wilbur into greater leadership and created a true “family business” with a very literal name—H.O. Wilbur & Sons. (A third son, Dr. Bertrand K. Wilbur, would also join the company in 1900 when Harry passed away.)
Throughout the dynamic and successful period at the end of the 19th century, the Wilbur sons brought other relatives into the fold, most notably two of H.O.’s brothers who had received training and experience making chocolate in France and Germany. It was their ingenuity that helped create the Wilbur Bud in 1894!
By 1905, the third generation of Wilburs entered the picture including Lawrence H. Wilbur, another European-trained chocolatier, who would develop a machine to foil wrap the Wilbur Buds.
That’s right—Wilbur Buds were originally foil wrapped before being “packed in fancy boxes!” As one can imagine, transport from factory to store shelves was much slower back in those days, and protecting chocolate’s freshness was a primary concern. (Fun fact: around the same time, another Pennsylvania-based chocolate manufacturer began producing a copycat drop product that’s still foil wrapped today.)
Home sweet home – Lititz, PASo, how and when did Wilbur Chocolate make its long-term home in historic Lititz? It’s true that H.O. Wilbur & Sons incorporated in January 1909, and around that time, the prospering chocolate business began seeking expansion opportunities through partnerships with and acquisitions of other chocolate producers. The business also continued to expand its physical footprint in its native Philadelphia at this time.
Chocolate-making had already been a large-scale industry in Lititz, PA for many years when Wilbur completed a merger with Swiss company Suchard Societe Anonyme and assumed operations of Lititz-based Brewster-Ideal Cocoa and Chocolate Company in the late 1920s/early 1930s.
Out of these changes, Wilbur’s official company name became Wilbur-Suchard Chocolate Company, Inc. and a permanent consolidation of operations from Philadelphia and Newark, NJ to Lititz was completed by 1933. The Lititz plant was located right next to a Reading Railroad freight station, and ease of shipping was a major factor in the choice of Lititz.
Names change, but the Bud stays the same
At the end of 1958, Suchard and Wilbur parted ways. This mainly meant that the company would no longer produce Suchard-branded products and would re-focus its efforts on making only Wilbur Chocolate. A company name change to the Wilbur Chocolate Company was completed at this time.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, despite multiple changes in corporate ownership, Wilbur Chocolate thrived, producing a variety of chocolate bar products, chocolate as an ingredient to food producers, and—of course—the Wilbur Bud.Believe it or not, the Wilbur Bud recipe has remained unchanged despite all the business changes through the years, including the final closing of the original Lititz production plant on Broad Street in 2016. The Wilbur Buds you purchase today are born from the same, uncomplicated chocolate recipe and molding process devised all those decades ago!
The Wilbur Chocolate Store – a cherished local gem
Have you visited our Wilbur Chocolate Store—either in its “new” location or in its previous “company store” home attached to the former Broad Street production facility across the street? This thriving little “chocolate box” of a shop has its own unique history that grew out of one woman’s passion for sharing the deliciousness of Wilbur with the community.
In the early 1970s, the Wilbur Chocolate Company had a factory store that was only open to production workers to allow them to purchase the sweet results of their labor and enjoy with friends and family.Since Lititz is a tight-knit small town, non-employees soon began requesting that the store be open to the public—which occurred, much to the entire local region’s delight, in 1972.
Around the same time, former Wilbur Chocolate President John Buzzard’s wife Penny spearheaded the addition of a Candy Americana Museum to the store space, and its reputation as a tourist destination was solidified. Later, an open candy-making kitchen was added where visitors could watch experienced chocolatiers hand-making small batches of favorites like chocolate-covered items and more!
Today, the purpose-built Wilbur Chocolate Store, opened in 2016, is a wonderful place to visit, shop, and learn about the world of chocolate. The candy kitchen is still a beloved feature, and interpretive displays offer a glimpse into the rich history of the confectionery industry! Perhaps most important of all, though—every visitor is welcome to a free Wilbur Bud chocolate sample. We celebrate this special treat every single day of every single year—not just on special occasions like this 125th anniversary of the Bud’s invention!
The Cargill Connection – Wilbur is part of our family
Another important point in the history of Wilbur Chocolate is that the company was brought into the growing and thriving Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate family back in 1992. As we touched on earlier, Wilbur Chocolate Company had been experiencing some tumultuous ownership changes during the years just before this acquisition, and Cargill recognized an opportunity that would create distinct advantages for both entities. Today, with an important chocolate ingredient brand that’s made “bean to bar”—or rather, Bean to Bud—and that’s sold into the confectionery and food manufacturing industries, Wilbur continues to delight thanks to Cargill.
Planning for a delicious future
A couple of years ago, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate acquired the production assets and capabilities of one of its largest competitors. This led to the aging Broad Street Lititz Wilbur production facility being closed, though the majority of the chocolate production that was done there shifted to Cargill’s other PA-based facilities. This includes the Lititz Plant located on Lincoln Avenue, the Mount Joy facility, and the Hazleton facility.
With its unchanged recipe, the Wilbur Bud remains local, and Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate employs about 100 people in Lancaster County today, many of which support the thriving retail operations of the Wilbur Chocolate Store and WilburBuds.com!
And the future is bright for Wilbur Chocolate and Cargill. Wilbur Buds. Every purchase of these signature products directly supports The Cargill Cocoa Promise—a commitment to sustainable cocoa production. Collaboration with farmer organizations, cocoa-origin country governments, and customers to make farmers successful for generations to come is a way of life at Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate.