The History of Wawa: How Did Pennsylvania Get Its Name?

More than a century ago, the original Wawa dairy farm was established on land located in a rural area of Pennsylvania called Wawa. This area was named after a local Native American tribe in honor of their favorite game: the Canada Goose. In some Jersey Shore cities, Wawa has adapted its stores to match the aesthetics and culture of the area. The Woods family, who founded Wawa, also crossed paths with other local, politically connected dynasties such as the du Ponts and the McNeils, of the Tylenol fortune.

Wawa's “good neighbor” philosophy includes raising funds for charities and contributing to local initiatives. In the 1980s and 1990s, Dick Wood, founder of Wawa, expanded its product line beyond dairy meats and delicatessen, gradually transforming it from a quasi-grocery store to a sandwich shop. The company's roots can be traced back to 1902 when George Wood opened the Wawa dairy farm, which would eventually supply the store. Wawa began using the motto “Buy Health by the Bottle” and served customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey by delivering milk to their homes.

In 1992, Wawa formalized ownership of its associates with its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), and shares were awarded to associates annually based on prior year service. The company has been a pioneer in creating a “culture of convenience” in which people are willing to pay more for easier access to products. The name of the city of Wawa is derived from the word ojibwe wewe (pronounced way-way) which means snow goose, despite the company's image of a Canadian goose. My parents from the Midwest moved to Delaware County in Pennsylvania, home to the Wawa headquarters and many of its stores, when I was 6 years old.

But many customers have an affinity for one particular store location, often resulting in driving farther than necessary to “their Wawa”. Constantly, Rich Gheysens, CEO of Wawa, has approached his work with a healthy appreciation for the culture of Wawa and with a philosophy that has continued to lay the foundation for Gheysens. He left a role at Coca-Cola and spent two years working shifts at Wawa stores 24 hours a day before his father let him into headquarters. It describes a customer who is on first name terms with the employees of her local Wawa and was even forced to create social media groups full of people who affirm their love not only for Wawa but for the specific Wawa location they visit most often.

Tristan Gagliardo
Tristan Gagliardo

Proud social media ninja. Bacon expert. Unapologetic gamer. Proud zombie nerd. Freelance pop culture scholar.

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