Waples-Platter Grocery Company
The city of Denison, Texas was founded in 1872 as a terminus for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas railroad.[i] The city began as a melting pot of many different cultures and included some very colorful characters in the beginning. Nearly 3,000 people called Denison home in 1875 with over 3,500 dollars worth of city lots sold within the first day of lot sales.[ii] A main commercial district was quickly established along Main Street while less desirable businesses such as saloons were required to remain on a side street known as Skiddy Street.
One company held the reputation of being established before the city itself. The founding of the firm Hanna, Owens & Co. in 1871 served to provide M, K, & T Railroad workers with provisions to as they built the rail line into Texas. The company eventually moved down south when Denison was founded, and through various mergers became known as Waples-Platter Grocery Company. This company would become one of the largest wholesale grocer firms in the Southwest with branches in four different states. Waples-Platter proved to be an economic engine for Denison well into the middle of the 1900’s and was the company behind the famous product known as Ranch Style Beans. Although the company left Denison in 1959, it continued to serve the Southwest for years. Waples-Platter was a genuine Texas company, forged by settlers headed west, and destined to become one of the great companies of Texas history.
The Waples-Platter Grocery Company is one of the few companies founded before the city of Denison came into existence. The company began in 1871 as a commissary that served the M, K, &T railroad workers as they extended the rail line into Texas. The commissary was located in a tent at Chickasaw Ben Colbert’s Ferry along the Red River where it was suspected the MKT Railroad would be coming through, and was begun by Sam Hanna and Joe Owens. Samuel McAfee Hanna Sr. (August 8, 1834- November 21, 1903) was born in Shelby County Kentucky and made his way towards Texas and the Wild West frontier in the 1870’s.[iii] Little is known about Joe Owens. The commissary was stocked with bags of coffee beans, a cracker barrel, bulk sugar, and barrels of lard, and was housed in a tent for six to seven months to provide hunters and ranchers with food as well as much-needed ammunition.
Once the fledgling city of Denison had been plotted and lots sold in September of 1872, the two enterprising men moved their firm known as Hanna, Owens & Co. four miles to the south and became the first wholesale grocery company to arrive in the newly formed city.[iv] The firm set up shop in a 25 ft. by 80 ft. building in the 100 block of East Main in 1873, directly across the street from the railroad depot.[v] The primitive operation included the handling of buffalo hides brought in by hunters from the prairies and the shipment of provisions by ox team into the Indian Territory and other surrounding areas. Freighters would commonly haul hides from Fort Griffin to Denison and return with supplies for cattle ranchers, hunters, and merchants.
Andrew Fox (A.F.) Platter (August 17, 1850- December 24, 1932)[vi], a dry goods clerk in Missouri, came to Denison in 1877 to visit his sister and was thoroughly impressed by the potential of the frontier town. He returned in 1878 to become a bookkeeper for the Hanna and Owens, and bought Owens’ interest in 1882.[vii] With Platter’s purchase, the firm became known as Hanna, Platter & Co. with the name quickly changing to Hanna, Platter & Lingo with the addition of Edward Henry (E.H.) Lingo (October 11, 1838-January 27, 1927)[viii] to the partnership in the same year. In 1883 A.F. Platter married a woman by the name of Fannie Waples (August 18, 1857- December 13, 1947)[ix] and together they encouraged her father E.B. Waples and her brothers, Paul and John, to buy major interests in the business. Several years later the company went through yet another name change, as it became Hanna, Platter & Waples when Edward Bridell (E.B.) Waples (October 25, 1814-October 4, 1898)[x] bought an interest in the company in 1885.[xi]
E.B. Waples was also named president of the firm in 1885 and became very active in the city; the Waples Memorial United Methodist Church in Denison bears his name for his contributions to the church.[xii] This same year in 1885, a large elegant warehouse and headquarter building was constructed at 104 E. Main in Denison.[xiii] The new warehouse and headquarters was an architectural marvel designed by architect P. Lelardoux of Muskogee, Ok, and was a two-story structure with cast iron pilasters in the facade; terracotta lions head statues, keystones and segmented arch openings.[xiv] The building was meant to symbolize the company’s prominence in Denison, and the large brick edifice did just that for 128 years before it was demolished in 2013.
The company’s line of grocery products known as the White Swan line was introduced in 1886 to symbolize the company’s quality in packaging. The white swan floating on pure water was an image chosen to represent the high standards that Waples-Platter required of their food products. Shortly afterward in 1887 Sam Hanna sold his interest in the company to the sons of Waples, Paul (February 4, 1850- November 16, 1916)[xv] and John Waples (April 28, 1848- January 3, 1912)[xvi] and the firm became known as Waples-Platter & Company.[xvii] In 1891 the company was officially incorporated as Waples-Platter Grocer Company and Paul Waples succeeded his father as president before the end of the year. Paul would eventually move to Fort Worth with the company, where in 1906 he became the founder of the Fort Worth Star that would later become the famed Fort Worth Star-Telegram. [xviii]
With the success of the company came the need for growth and expansion, which occurred with the opening of the first branch house at Gainesville in 1890 and the establishment of the company at Fort Worth in 1893. Fort Worth would play a crucial role in the company’s development eventually becoming the site of the Waples-Platter headquarters. In 1897 the firm’s Wapco brand was originated and branches were opened at Bowie and Dublin. In 1898 the Concho line was added, giving the company its third private label.[xix]
The year 1902 saw the beginning of operations in Dallas with 1905 bringing branch houses at Greenville and Ada, Oklahoma. In 1907, the Federal Food and Drug Act became effective but no re-adjustment of company standards was necessary due to the high-quality policies already practiced by Waples-Platter. The company also came into the manufacturing business beginning in 1906 with the construction of a coffee roasting plant at 110-112 S. Houston Ave. in Denison. The “Roasting Ovens” at the plant were eight-foot cylinders, which the employees fired by hand with coke. The coffee roasting plant was followed shortly afterwards with a food processing division at Fort Worth in 1913. The year 1913 also marked the birth of the Waples-Platter Canning Plant, later known as Ranch Style, Inc.
In 1914 Waples-Platter purchased Blanke & Co., a coffee and tea company based out of Dallas, and began roasting coffee there, at the same time continuing operations at the Denison plant.[xx] The year 1915 marked the beginning of the company’s label printing division. Paul Waples died in 1916 and his brother-in-law, A.F. Platter, became president of the company. In 1917 the container manufacturing section or “box factory” was begun at Fort Worth in a 40 by 75 foot frame building. Ten employees made packing cases for the nearby food processing plant, and boxes for the Denison and Dallas coffee roasting plants. The last action of the company before the roaring twenties began was the opening of a branch house at Clovis, New Mexico in 1919.
The expansion in the number of grocery houses continued rapidly and by the early 1920’s the Waples-Platter sign stood on buildings in Paris, Marshall, Lamesa, Brady, Graham, Ranger, Brownhead, San Angelo, Seymour, Stamford, Henrietta, Vernon, Chillicothe, Memphis, Amarillo, Lubbock, and Clovis, New Mexico; all together there were 26 houses in operation by this time. The manufacturing program expanded in the 20’s packing black-eyed peas, fresh and dry pork and beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, spaghetti, salad dressing, jellies, vinegar, and apple butter. It also re-packed rice, tea, coconut oil and olive oil.
The company elected to move the headquarters of the firm from Denison to Fort Worth in the 1920’s, but the Denison operation would remain until 1959. In 1926, the directors of the Waples-Platter Grocery Co. approved closing the Denison, Fort Worth, and Dallas grocery houses at 1 p.m. every Saturday from December 1st to September 1st and approved the new concept of a one-week paid vacation for those employees who had been with the company for at least one year. The official headquarters for the company were moved to Fort Worth in 1929 and Lloyd H. McKee became president of the company, succeeding A.F. Platter. In the same year in order to stimulate sales on White Swan coffee, the directors voted to eliminate cups, saucers, and glassware from the coffee cans and to reduce the per pound selling price.[xxi]
In 1930 it was agreed to drop the sale of “tobacco and kindred products” and to add a blend coffee to the market as a replacement. The thirties would also bring about another new product that would endure long after the company was no longer in existence, that product would be Ranch Style Beans. While the famous Ranch Style Beans were already being sold in some form or fashion in the 1870’s they did not become a household name until 1935 when they were introduced to the public after three years of extensive research. It wasn’t too long before celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, and Grace Kelly began ordering them. They were even served at President Lyndon Johnson’s ranch on many occasions. Edward McKee is credited with concocting the recipe with a “secret sauce” while working for the Waples-Platter Co. in Denison, but it was the 1930’s when he developed the beans that would remain popular throughout the Depression. The beans were released under the White Swan label in 1932, then reintroduced three years later as Ranch Style Beans in the familiar, red-banded black label that was designed by McKee’s father, Lloyd McKee.[xxii] This is one of the only remaining products created by the Waples-Platter Co. to still be in existence to this day.
Sadly, Lloyd McKee passed away in 1934 and Vice Admiral Adolphus Andrews became president of the company. In 1936, Waples-Platter was approached by a group of independent retailers to sponsor a rather new concept known as a chain retail store. The store would be named Clover Farm Stores and was divided into two divisions: the Bluebonnet division with headquarters in Fort Worth, and the Lone Star division in Dallas.[xxiii]
The year 1940 saw the opening of a new branch house in Abilene and in November of the same year the shareholders voted to renew the corporation’s charter for 50 more years. The original 1885 headquarters building in Denison was sold to Griffin Wholesale Grocer Company in 1941 when Waples-Platter moved all of its remaining Denison operations into the annex building at 110-112 S. Houston. With the Second World War in full swing in the 40’s, it was rather difficult for the coffee industry to supply a product. Rather than compromise on quality, Waples-Platter decided to cease delivery of its White Swan brand coffee in 1942 and did not begin delivery again until 1947. In 1942, the company received a request to set up a box factory in Texarkana to manufacture containers to be used for packing shells, explosives and other war items. In spite of food rationing, shortages of tin, coffee, etc. the company was able to survive the war years in fairly good condition. In 1944 the first insurance program for employees was adopted offering life and health insurance. That same year Waples-Platter opened a branch in Roswell, New Mexico. In 1944 a new branch was opened in Waco and with the expansion of the automotive throughout the U.S., delivery time at Waples-Platter was measured in hours instead of days. The largest trucks boasted cabs and trailers that could haul up to 25,000 pounds. [xxiv]
In 1952 the company divided into an Eastern Division with headquarters in Dallas and a Western division with headquarters in Fort Worth. In 1957 the Dallas coffee roasting division was closed and the Graphic Arts Label Company was expanded. The first formal Pension & Retirement Plan for Waples-Platter employees became effective on June 1st of 1958 and the life insurance policy was improved with employees allowed to carry dependent coverage. In 1959, the board approved the formation of an institutional division. [xxv]
The board later approved the setting up of three subsidiary corporations: Waples-Platter West Texas for handling retail accounts in Odessa, Amarillo, Lubbock, Memphis, Vernon, Roswell and Abilene areas; White Swan Institutional Foods Company, based in Lubbock, for handling commodities required for commercial eating places such as schools, hospitals, cafes, clubs, etc.; Waples-Platter North Texas which would handle the retailers of their area the same as the Lubbock location; and Service Stores Inc. whose primary function would be financing the purchase of leases, buildings, and real estate. The 50’s ended with the last operation of the company in Denison closing down. In May of 1959 the doors of the coffee roasting plant at 110-112 S. Houston were closed leaving the eight tasting personnel at the plant without jobs.[xxvi]
In 1960 equipment was installed at the White Swan Coffee Company in Dallas to add the packaging of dry beans, popcorn, and other similar products to the line. A five-color press was added to the Graphic Arts Department in 1964 and with the ever-increasing need for newer label designs and advertisements in early 1967 construction began on a 10,000 square foot additional space for the Graphic Arts. In 1967-68 the assets of the Ireland Chili Company were procured as well as the purchasing of the Shelton Frozen Foods brand.[xxvii]
On February 18, 1970 a $3.5 million fire wiped out the wholesale grocery warehouse of Waples-Platter West in Lubbock- the most costly fire in Lubbock’s history involving more than 30 firemen from nine stations. In 1972 the name of the company was changed from Waples-Platter Company to Waples-Platter Companies and by January of 1973 the company was bursting at the seams. An additional 5-color press was added to the Graphic Arts section and the Fort Worth and West Texas warehouse freezers were doubled in size. By 1976, expansion was approved for Great Western Foods and the name was changed to Ranch Style, Inc. The Dallas and Lubbock branches of White Swan planned expansions with more planned for Waples-Platter North Texas, West Texas, Graphic Arts, and White Swan Austin.[xxviii]
In 1982 White Swan Inc. and four other subsidiaries were sold to Fleming companies of Oklahoma City for $91 million.[xxix] In 1983, the Fort Worth owners sold Great Western Foods-Ranch Style to American Home Products Corp., the New-York based maker of Anacin, Chef Boy-Ar-Dee and hundreds of other consumer products. In 1985 White Swan purchased M&M Harlingen and Corpus Christi. July of 1988 was a big month when White Swan purchased William E. Davis of Oklahoma City and Standard Food Service of West Virginia. The managers of the White Swan then teamed up with outside investors to purchase the company from Fleming to end the year as the largest privately owned food service company in the United States.[xxx]
In 1991 the Watson Food Service Industries was added to the White Swan family and in 1992 the addition of Restaurant Food Supply of Columbus Ohio and Mom’s Produce of Dallas made the company even larger.[xxxi] Through various purchasings the White Swan name is no longer in existence as it once was, but it is safe to say that company, along with the men who worked so hard to build it, will forever have a place in the history of Texas.
The Waples-Platter Grocery Company had a significant impact on the Southwest, especially the North Texas region. The company, originally Hanna, Owens & Co. was begun to supply railroad workers with needed supplies as the first rail line from the north was built into Texas. The firm would eventually be joined by A.F. Platter and E.B. Waples; both of whom had a profound impact on the history of Denison with Waples having a church named after him. With the addition of the two men, the company became known as the Waples-Platter Grocery Company and would operate under that name for well into a century before mergers eventually bought out the name.
The advent of Ranch Style Beans was probably the greatest accomplishment for the company as the product has withstood the test of time and is still available to this day. With several warehouses still in existence including ones in Denison, Dallas, and Fort Worth the Waples-Platter name may still be seen where the company was most prominent. From the 1800’s to the late 1900’s, the firm of Waples-Platter proved itself to be a company with high standards and proven products, it is for this that the company should be remembered as a part of Texas history.
[i] Landrum, Graham. Grayson County: An Illustrated History of Grayson County, Texas. Pub. By University Supply and Equipment Company Fort Worth, Texas. 1960. p. 37.
[ii] Maguire, Jack. Katy’s Baby: The Story of Denison Texas. Nortex Press, Austin, Texas. 1991. p.9.
[iii] Grayson County Frontier Village. The History of Grayson County, Texas. Volume II. Pub. By Heritage Publishing Company Tulsa, Oklahoma. 1981. p. 185-186.
[iv] Maguire, Jack. Katy’s Baby: The Story of Denison Texas. Nortex Press, Austin, Texas. 1991. p.42.
[v] Unknown. “Waples-Platter Began With Denison”. The Denison Herald. [Denison] June 25, 1972.
[vi] Date taken from tombstone. Located at the Fairview Cemetery, 1501 HWY 91, Denison, TX.
[vii] Author Unknown. “Waples-Platter Buildings”. Narrative for National Register of Historic Places Application. Reference Number: 78002917. http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/shell-kword.htm. Accessed December 21, 2012.
[viii] Date taken from tombstone. Located at the Fairview Cemetery, 1501 HWY 91, Denison, TX.
[ix] Date taken from tombstone. Located at the Fairview Cemetery, 1501 HWY 91, Denison, TX.
[x] Date taken from tombstone. Located at the Fairview Cemetery, 1501 HWY 91, Denison, TX.
[xi] Landrum, Graham. Grayson County: An Illustrated History of Grayson County, Texas. Pub. By University Supply and Equipment Company Fort Worth, Texas. 1960. p. 38.
[xii] Hunt, Donna. “Historic Denison Building Will Be Closed A While Longer”. The Herald Democrat. [Sherman-Denison]. July 4, 2010.
[xiii] Bryant, Mavis Anna; Hunt, Donna. Images of America: Denison. Pub. By Arcadia Publishing Charleston, SC. 2011. p. 14.
[xiv] Hunt, Donna. “Historic Denison Building Will Be Closed A While Longer”. The Herald Democrat. [Sherman-Denison] July 4, 2010.
[xv] Date taken from tombstone. Located at the Fairview Cemetery, 1501 HWY 91, Denison, TX.
[xvi] Date taken from tombstone. Located at the Fairview Cemetery, 1501 HWY 91, Denison, TX.
[xvii] Paddock, Captain B.B. History of Texas: Fort Worth and the Texas Northwest Edition. Volume IV. Pub. By Lewis Publishing Company Chicago and New York. 1922. P. 739.
[xviii] Hunt, Donna. “Historic Denison Building Will Be Closed A While Longer”. The Herald Democrat. [Sherman-Denison]. July 4, 2010.
[xix] McKinney, Galen H. Waples-Platter Company: Seventy-Fifth Anniverssary 1872-1947. Pub. By Waples-Platter Company Dallas, Texas. 1947. p. 4.
[xx] Hunt, Donna. “Ranch Style Beans Started In Denison”. The Herald Democrat. [Sherman-Denison]. April 25, 2010.
[xxi] McKinney, Galen H. Waples-Platter Company: Seventy-Fifth Anniverssary 1872-1947. Pub. By Waples-Platter Company Dallas, Texas. 1947. p. 6.
[xxii] Hunt, Donna. “Ranch Style Beans Started In Denison”. The Herald Democrat. [Sherman-Denison]. April 25, 2010.
[xxiii] McKinney, Galen H. Waples-Platter Company: Seventy-Fifth Anniverssary 1872-1947. Pub. By Waples-Platter Company Dallas, Texas. 1947. p. 7.
[xxiv] McKinney, Galen H. Waples-Platter Company: Seventy-Fifth Anniverssary 1872-1947. Pub. By Waples-Platter Company Dallas, Texas. 1947. p. 10.
[xxv] Author Unknown. White Swan: 120 Years of Service. Pub. By White Swan Inc. Fort Worth, Texas. 1992. p. 7.
[xxvi] Hunt, Donna. “A Brief History of the Waples-Platter, Griffin, MKT, Katy Building” The Herald Democrat. [Sherman-Denison]. December 4, 2012.
[xxvii] Author Unknown. White Swan: 120 Years of Service. Pub. By White Swan Inc. Fort Worth, Texas. 1992. p. 9.
[xxviii] Author Unknown. White Swan: 120 Years of Service. Pub. By White Swan Inc. Fort Worth, Texas. 1992. p. 10.
[xxix] Author Unknown. “Fleming Companies, Inc. History”. Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 17. St. James Press, 1997. http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/fleming-companies-inc-history/. Accessed January 2, 2013.
[xxx] Author Unknown. White Swan: 120 Years of Service. Pub. By White Swan Inc. Fort Worth, Texas. 1992. p. 12.
[xxxi] Author Unknown. White Swan: 120 Years of Service. Pub. By White Swan Inc. Fort Worth, Texas. 1992. p. 13.
Elaine Nall Bay