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Just Wonderful: 1925

Just Wonderful: 1925

Washington, D.C., circa 1925. "Ford Motor Co. truck, John H. Wilkins Co." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Chief Navy Coffee Roaster

Washington Post, Jul 26, 1960

Mrs. John H. Wilkins Dead;
Widow of Coffee Firm Founder

Mrs. John H. Wilkins, 77, widow of the founder of the Wilkins Coffee Co., died Sunday at her home, 3411 Woodley rd. nw., after a long illness.

Mrs. Wilkins, born Aida Seal in Washington in 1883, was a member of a sixth-generation family here and a descendant of the Seal family that settled in Maryland and Virginia in the late 17th Century.

One of her relatives, George Washington R. Seal of Winchester Va., was among the first to manufacture artificial gas for use in lighting that city. Another ancestor, Samuel Douglass, settled in a community originally known as New Scotland Hundred in Charles County, Md, which eventually became Georgetown in Washington.

At the time of her marriage to Mr. Wilkins at the turn of the century, her husband owned a small retail specialty shop at 1921 14th st. nw., and sold coffee, tea, butter and eggs. From a small roaster and five bags of green coffee, Mr. Wilkins expanded his business into a million-dollar corporation by 1947, the time of his death.

Mrs. Wilkins leaves a son, John H. Wilkins Jr., current president of the coffee company; a granddaughter, Mrs. Cooley Kennedy, and a great granddaughter, Christina Lyn Cooley, all of 4200 Cathedral ave. nw.

A private funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Gawler's Chapel, 1756 Pennsylvania ave. nw., with interment in Rock Creek Cemetery.

Washington Post, Apr 1, 1967

John H. Wilkins Dies at 65;
Headed Coffee Company Here

John H. Wilkins Jr., 65, chairman of the board of the Wilkins Coffee Co., died of a heart ailment yesterday at Doctors Hospital.

Mr. Wilkins had been chairman of the company's board since last June, and had been its president for 19 years prior to that.

Born here, he was a fifth generation Washingtonian.

After graduation from Babson Institute of Business Administration, in Wellsley, Mass., he joined his father, the late John J. Wilkins Sr., in his wholesale coffee and grocery firm here.

In 1923, a fire destroyed most of the firm's warehouses. Mr. Wilkins persuaded his father to terminate his grocery business at that time, and from then on, the firm's efforts were concentrated on processing coffee.

Wilkins Coffee Co. built its main plant in Landover, Md., in 1965-66. The company also operates plants in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pa., Baltimore, Richmond, Norfolk and Raleigh, N.C.

Mr. Wilkins is also one of the four founders of Tenco, Inc., which became one of the largest processors of instant coffee in the world. Nelson Rockefeller, now governor of New York, was active in the firm before it was sold to Minute Maid Orange Juice Corp., which was later bought by Coca-Cola Corp.

During World War II Mr. Wilkins served in the Navy as an activated reserve officer. For 26 months he served at Pearl Harbor, and then was assigned to be chief of the Navy's coffee roasting plant in Oakland, Calif. After about four years of service, a heart condition forced him to resign.

Mr. Wilkins was especially active in the Washington Heart Fund, where he headed the first Greater Washington fund drive and was honored as the fund's first life member.

He was also a member of the New York Coffee and Sugar Exchange, National Coffee Association of the U.S.A., Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, Merchants and Manufacturers Association of Washington, National Association of Manufacturers, Army and Navy Club, University Club and National Press Club.

He is survived by his wife, Ruth M., of the home address, "Chestnut Lawn," near Remington Va.; a daughter, Lyn W. Kennedy of Washington, and a granddaughter.

I am unable to find any notice in the Post regarding the death of John H. Wilkins, Sr., in 1947. Are the pages recording his death are missing from the digital archives or was his death so scandalous that it went unreported in the newspapers?

[He had the temerity to expire elsewhere. Below, item from 6-14-47 - Dave]

Rhode Island Avenue

What a great photo. It could only have been made better if the photographer had caught a streetcar going by on its way to Hyattsville and beyond.

Re: Is that Robert De Niro??

I agree it is DeNiro in "Back to the Future" 1985. The mole is even on the correct side and position of the face.

Highway Robbery

John H. Wilkins started in the wholesale grocery business but eventually specialized in roasted coffee, forming the Wilkins Coffee Co. in the mid 1920s. Wilkins Coffee, a long-lived Washington institution, is now remembered on the internets for early TV commercials featuring a young puppeteer named Jim Henson.

Washington Post, Dec 12, 1924

Robber Takes $1,200 from Truck Driver

Wholesale Grocery Delivery Man Held Up
on the Highway Bridge

A robber held up a truck driver and robbed him of $1,200 on the Virginia side of the Highway bridge shortly after 6 o'clock last evening.

C.F. Chenault, driver for the John H. Wilkins, wholesale grocer company, 519 Rhode Island avenue northeast, was returning from Alexandria after having delivered a large quantity of groceries there. A colored "jumper" was riding alongside him.

The robber had leaped on the running board of the truck before the two men saw him. He ordered Chenault to stop the truck and hand over all the money he had. This Chenault did and the bandit fled in the direction of the river.

Arlington county authorities and the local police are investigating the holdup.


Wilkins Coffee adverts on TV in the 1950s made Kermit the Frog famous and helped launch an empire.

Wilkins Coffee

The Wilkins Company slogan was "Try Wilkins Coffee - It's Just Wonderful!" From 1957 to 1961 Jim Henson made 179 TV commercials for them in his pre-Muppet days. Dozens of these can be found on the internet.

The coffee was reputed to be quite good and although it disappeared from DC area grocery stores in the mid-1990s, it supposedly is still available through Royal Cup Coffee's commercial and office service sales department.

About the time this picture was taken the John H. Wilkins Co. was being charged by the Federal Trade Commission for unfair methods of competition. They were in the habit of leasing or loaning coffee urns to customers without payment except for an expressed agreement that the customers would purchase all their coffee and tea from Wilkins. The charges were later dropped.

Also about this time period the Wilkins Co. bought a new fleet of trucks that were painted white.


Looks like the guy in the next truck over is taking a little snooze.

DeNiro's doppelganger

You talking to this bag of sugar?

Parking Brick is Set

A high-tech method for ensuring the truck stays put. Still in use today. It's hard to improve on perfection.

If we look carefully, we might find

that little rock that serves as a brake.

Interesting parking brake on the truck.

Note the half-brick under the right rear wheel, with the solid tire.

What was "just wonderful" on the side of the truck about?

[Coffee. If you look closely you can see lettering. - Dave]

Rhode Island Avenue NE

It appears that this was on the 500 block of Rhode Island Avenue NE - the John H. Wilkins Co. is referenced to have been located at 525. Nothing remains today.

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Is that Robert De Niro??

I am not kidding. The guy loading the truck is De Niro.

Interesting Parking Brake

I like the rock in front of the rear wheel.


Five Model T Fords in one shot! Must have been fun to hear them trundle off to work in the mornings...


And Now

It's an AutoZone parking lot.

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