MERIDEN — In honor of Thompson Chocolate’s 140 year anniversary this year, the historical society is displaying an exhibit this month chronicling the local company’s remarkable success story.
The free exhibit takes visitors through Thompson’s history and the challenges it overcame to adapt and survive even as other confectioners went out of business nationally.
“It’s such a cool story about resilience, adaptability, and the determination to not let family and not let Meriden down,” said exhibit curator Deborah Patterson, a Meriden Historical Society board member. The exhibit is being displayed each Sunday through October from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the historical society’s Andrews Homestead, 424 W. Main St. The exhibit includes historic photographs, articles, and artifacts.
The company’s history dates back to 1871, when founder William H. Thompson traveled from Connecticut to Philadelphia to learn the confectionery trade from Stephan Whitman, of Whitman Candies, at the age of 17. Upon returning to Connecticut, he opened Meriden’s first-ever candy store, W.H. Thompson Company, in a brick building at 75 W. Main St., the current site of Liberty Lagana furniture store.
Like many confectioner businesses at the time, Thompson Chocolate prospered through the early 1900s, and by the late 1920s, chocolate sales outpaced cigarette and cigar sales in the U.S. But that changed in 1929 as the Great Depression forced more than 800 confectioner businesses to close throughout the country, according to Patterson.
After William H. Thompson died of a heart attack in his office in 1929, his son, Charles E. Thompson, took over the business and was forced to liquidate the company’s manufacturing plant on Church Street in 1934. Determined not to let his family’s business die, Charles. E. Thompson regrouped and began producing chocolate out of a carriage house behind 35 Linsley Ave. for a few years, Patterson said, and in 1936, the company moved into a new location on Center Street.
Charles E. Thompson’s son, George H. Thompson eventually took over and sold the family business in the 1960s to Knowlton White. The company moved into its current location, 80 S. Vine St., in 1979. James Lewis, the company’s current owner, purchased it in 1995. Thompson currently has about 90 employees that work to produce more than 2 million pounds of chocolate annually.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, Thompson’s sales and marketing manager, reached out to the historical society last year to collaborate on a project celebrating the company’s anniversary.
“I think we've put together something that Thompson, the historical society and our city can be proud of,” Scarpati said.
The historical society annually hosts two special displays at Andrews Homestead — one in May and one in October — highlighting the history of local organizations, Patterson said. Last October, the historical society hosted a display for the police department’s 150 year anniversary.