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John Wagner and Sons, Inc. records


Held at: Philadelphia History Museum [Contact Us]15 South 7th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia History Museum. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

John Wagner and Sons, Inc. began as a cigar importing business on Dock Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1847. Soon, the company added wines, teas, and spices to its list of imports due to customer demand. Later on, the company expanded into the specialty food market. Operating under the slogan "Purveyors to epicures since 1847," Wagner and Sons sold to a clientele that included prominent bankers and business leaders in Philadelphia. Wagner and Sons also shipped goods throughout the United States by way of the Pony Express. President Ulysses Grant was one of the company's patrons, at one time purchasing 2,000 Cuban cigars.

The Wagner family owned the business until 1950, when it was purchased by a group of Philadelphia businessmen. In 1954 the company moved to a location near Hatboro, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The Starr family, a member of whom had been part of the group that purchased Wagner and Sons in 1950, bought the company in 1960 and moved its headquarters to Ivyland, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In 1977 Wagner and Sons became the first company in the United States to sell decaffeinated teas. In 1991, Wagner and Sons opened a museum detailing the company's history, the Wagner Museum, next to the company's outlet store in Ivyland. In 1996, the Starr family sold the business to Rose Spice, Inc. of Wilmington, NC. The business, known at the time as Wagner Gourmet Foods, Inc., was again purchased in 2000 by Williams Foods, Inc. Wagner's brand products are still sold as of 2014 by Williams Foods, Inc.


Siebert, S. E. "Preserving a Long Tradition Purveying Edibles to Epicures Ralph Starr Relies on History to Guide John Wagner & Sons in Ivyland." Philadelphia Inquirer, December 13, 1992. Accessed September 26, 2014.

Warner, Susan. "Spice Rack Buys Wagner & Sons." Philadelphia Inquirer, May 24, 1996. Accessed September 26, 2014.

This collection consists primarily of financial papers, stock records, publicity materials, and other documents relating to John Wagner and Sons. Included are: financial ledgers and receipts, 1847-1897; a log book of tobacco and alcohol deliveries to Philadelphians, 1879; property documents; letters; handwritten and printed price lists and catalogs; and more. There are product labels and packaging proofs, as well as a quantity of publicity and advertising materials, such as magazine advertisements for Wagner and Sons, photographs, and trade cards. Of special interest are Prohibition era materials, such as a form requesting a warrant to search Wagner and Sons for concealed liquor (1926), a notice regarding disposal of liquor stock (1919), and a telegram stating intentions to resume liquor sales upon repeal (1933).

A small amount of materials pre-date the establishment of Wagner and Sons, including a personal account book of John Wagner, 1783, and documents related to the importation of goods.

An item-level inventory is available on site. The Philadelphia History Museum also owns objects associated with this collection.

Gift of Williams Food, Inc., 2002 (accession 02.5)

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Philadelphia History Museum directly for more information.

Philadelphia History Museum
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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