Learning Objective: Study the chocolate industry from a historical perspective

A brief history of chocolate

I had always associated the Aztecs (AD 1376 - 1520) with chocolate cultivation, but archaeological evidence indicates that the Olmec (1150 - 300 BC) and then the Maya (200 BC - AD 1550) grew cacao as a domesticated crop in the rainforests of Central America before the Aztecs.

The Aztecs believed that the cacao tree had been brought to them by the god Quetzacoatl on a beam of the morning star. He taught them how to process the cacao, and the drink made from its beans became a sacred drink, to be consumed only by the Aztec elite. There was one exception to the rule: soldiers, who were allowed the drink to sustain them during war. (Not unlike the RationD Hershey Bars and M&Ms that went into battle with our soldiers in the modern wars.)

The fruit of the cacao trees held beans that were dried, then ground and mixed with water to produce a slightly chewy drink that the Maya preferred warm and the Aztecs preferred cold. These early chocolatiers, slaves no doubt, created a head of foam by pouring the drink back and forth between small bowls to aerate the mixture. (Looking at the early drawings, this was quite a show and I wonder if they were the early versions of Tom Cruise in "Cocktail.")

Later the Spanish introduced the molinillo, the wooden beater that was used from then on to foam the mixture in a tall, long-necked jar. This made chocolate making much quicker and less messy than the traditional way, which I’m sure pleased the kitchen slaves. 

Where did the word “chocolate” come from?
Scholars vary on whether chocolate came from "chocolatl" or "xocolatl," meaning "bitter water," or “chokola'j” which is a verb that means “to drink chocolate together.” Regardless of the origin of the name, cocoa was brought back to Europe as “chocolate.”

Maya word Chocolatl

More about the glyph from The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies:

Individual Maya glyphic forms are signs used to convey individual syllables.  A small fish, readily available in Guatemala, is named “ka.”  The Maya word [ancient and modern] for chocolate was Ka-ka-w[a] – what we refer to in modern times as ca-ca-o/cacao or cocoa. So, to indicate the Maya word ka-ka-wa, the ancient Maya used the sign for the ka-fish, added a tiny dot in front of the fish [or on its head]…to indicate to readers that the ka’ sound should be said twice; and added the glyphic sign for the sound “wa” – either beneath the fish or behind the fish:  Ka+ka+wa or, cacao/cocoa…which later became known also as chocolate. 

In the case of kakawa, the sign is recognizable as a fish – even though it has nothing at all to do with a fish – except that sounds for the name of the fish occur also in the name of the beans that were ground and mixed with water and honey to make a delicious drink.

In the case of the Maya word for bread [“wa”] the sign is not recognizable to modern readers as it is an ABSTRACT sign as opposed to the FIGURAL sign used to indicate the sound for ‘ka.’

Please see this page for a brief explanation of how ancient Maya signs were formed: http://www.famsi.org/mayawriting/index.html

Europeans "discover" chocolate (1500s)

When Christopher Columbus came in contact with cacao in 1502, he wasn’t impressed with what he tasted, and the samples of cocoa beans that he brought back with him probably languished untasted in a warehouse. There is no record of any chocolate consumption in Spain during that period.

Some scholars suggest that in 1528, Cortez returned from the New World with the first cocoa beans, but there is no mention of chocolate on the list of gifts he brought for Charles V. The early explorers were fixated on shiny gold, not the black gold of the cocoa bean.

It is most likely that chocolate finally found its way from the New World to the tables of the Spanish nobility and clergy, brought by the commerce between clerics, military men, and traders who traveled back and forth. The first official shipment of chocolate was recorded in 1585, paving the way for centuries of luscious treats.

Sophie D. Coe in her definitive book, The True History of Chocolate, surmises that the Spanish appetite for chocolate may have started with the Spanish women in the New World who were served chocolate prepared by their Aztec servants. The women adapted the recipes to Spanish taste, with sugar being the main addition to the drink, and served them to their menfolk, who got hooked as well.

The Spanish processed the beans by roasting and then grinding them with sugar, cinnamon, and either anise seed or black pepper on a heated surface (usually a metate stone brought from the New World). The same basic process is used today but has been refined with modern machinery. This wonderful new beverage called chocolate was touted to have medicinal properties and was so loved by the Spanish aristocracy that over time they experimented with the addition of vanilla, musk, and other exotic spices to provide many variations to please their discerning palates.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, the tradition of drinking chocolate in the spirit of the Aztecs is alive and well.

The Oaxacans prefer chocolate to coffee and their drinking preferences are supported by hundreds of small chocolate mills, or molinos de chocolate. Each molino offers a variety of its own packaged ground chocolate for sale as well as chocolate bars and mole mixes. The smell of the roasted and ground chocolate permeates the street around the mills. YUM! Oaxacans bring cacao beans, sugar, and other ingredients to the molino to be custom ground to their own specifications into a paste called molienda. They request varying amounts of sugar and add spices such as vanilla or cinnamon depending on whether the molienda is being used for sweet or savory dishes. Once they get home, the ground chocolate is mixed with water, milk, or corn (which creates a drink called Tejate). The Day of the Dead festival is a very big chocolate holiday with cocoa beans – many different kinds of chocolate are part of the traditions of the day.

There is some indication through research that the clerics of the time made solid chocolate confections, but none of the recipes seems to have survived, and the overwhelming use of cocoa beans was in the form of a ground powder pressed into wafers as a basis for making a medicinal chocolate drink. By the mid-1600s, a mancerina, or the under-plate for the chocolate cup, was invented to save drips and splotches from scattering across an ample chest while taking the daily medicine. This invention was the prototype for our modern cup and saucer.

Regions and restrictions for cacao production

As chocolate’s popularity spread in Europe, so did the planting of cacao trees throughout the colonies. Cacao trees will bear fruit only in regions within 20°N and 20°S of the Equator, and the majority of crops are grown within 10°N and 10°S.

The trees require an average temperature of approximately 65 - 77°F (18 - 25°C) with high humidity and 80-plus inches of rainfall a year. With enough moisture, they can withstand higher temperatures, but they tend to flourish at the lower temperatures. These restrictions mean that you’ll only find cacao grown in regions along the equator such as South America, Central America, Mexico, Caribbean Islands, Indonesia, the South Pacific, and the African continent. These limitations result in chocolate being the precious commodity that it is today.

The chocolate-loving Spanish tried to keep cacao cultivation and cocoa production a secret, and they succeeded for more than 100 years. Chocolate was considered a medicinal drink that invigorated the drinker and provided nourishment between meals and, unlike other medicines, it tasted great. Imagine a time when you had a doctor’s appointment and then left with a prescription for lots of chocolate! The news eventually escaped as clerics and nobles took their chocolate “medicine” with them on their travels. By the 1650s, chocolate was found in most European countries and eventually made its way to America.

Chocolate in Europe (1600s to 1700s)

The French embraced chocolate and are credited with creating a pot specifically made for chocolate service. Called a chocolatière, this tall pot had a strong handle attached at a right angle to the pot itself to facilitate pouring, and a hole in the lid for the beater, or molinillo, with which to froth the mixture before serving. You can still find beautiful antique chocolate pots and small cups that were used for the chocolate service at antique dealers.

The first letters of patent for chocolate making were given by King Louis XIV to David Chaliou in Toulouse in 1659. Chaliou was then able to open, in 1666, the first shop to sell chocolate in Paris. And so appears the first chocolatier! He was permitted to sell his “medicine” in bars, tablets or boxes. Today, with all the evidence of dark chocolate being good for you in moderation, it's not hard to imagine chocolate makers going back to being recognized for their pharmaceutical skills in the future.

Chocolate conquered England in the mid-1600s. In 1655, the English took Jamaica from the Spanish and exported cocoa from the vast cocoa plantations on the island. The cocoa powder or tablet manufacturing process continued in England as it had for centuries in Spain. English manufacturing houses roasted, winnowed and ground the dried beans to order. During the 1700s, hot chocolate “medicine” was considered too strong for children, but certainly not for adults, as its popularity with the wealthy ruling and merchant classes grew, fueled by its health-giving properties and it being a less expensive option than tea.

During this time, chocolate houses and “clubs” formed in England. The first recorded match of chocolate with milk came in 1727, when Nicolas Sanders added hot milk to the ubiquitous chocolate drink for a friend. Also during this time, a new trend in “eating” ground cocoa began to show up across Europe and America, either as an ingredient in biscuits, desserts, and sorbets, or formed into small bars or wafers. Chocolate was more of a dessert than a confection, but this trend began chocolate’s move toward what would later be the pocket chocolate bar. Doctors, such as Quaker Joseph Fry, prescribed chocolate as part of a healthy diet. Fry built a manufacturing plant to keep up with demand and J.S. Fry & Sons was born in Bristol. The Quakers excelled as merchants and were attracted to the chocolate trade because of the drink's medicinal qualities and the fact that it was a very healthy alternative to alcohol.

The Industrial Revolution and chocolate production (1700s to 1800s)

The invention of the steam engine, which mechanized the grinding of the beans and reduced the price of cocoa powder, paved the way for chocolate products aimed at the less affluent consumer. In 1789, Fry’s son bought the newly-invented steam engine to grind beans for J.S. Fry & Sons chocolate manufacturers.

The 1800s heralded the Industrial Revolution and were a turning point in chocolate consumption. New manufacturing processes meant that chocolate could be portable and “taken” as needed, without fooling around making a drink. Chocolate became even more popular, now that it came as a confection or bar. One of the major problems of the early drink was that, if it sat for a while without being whipped, the warm cocoa butter rose to the surface, forming a layer of oil that had to be discarded. Quaker grocery store owner, John Cadbury, started manufacturing chocolate for his customers in 1824 with much success. And the new inventions that came with the revolution changed chocolate and chocolate manufacturing forever.

In 1828, the cocoa press was invented by Dutch chemist Johannes Van Houten. The press further mechanized the production of cocoa powder, decreasing its production cost. Now for a little bit of science. The cocoa bean contains both cocoa solids, with their strong chocolate flavor, and cocoa butter, with its fragrance of chocolate. The cocoa butter, the “oil" or "fat” of the cocoa bean, holds the solids in suspension. Pressing the ground cocoa beans under heat released the cocoa butter and produced a drier cocoa mass that could be ground to a very fine textured powder.

This took drinking chocolate from thick and gritty to smooth, and paved the way for the increasing popularity of “eating” chocolate. Van Houten also invented the process called “Dutching,” in which he treated the cocoa with alkaline salts to reduce its acidity and bitterness. He found that Dutching also produced a darker color that made mellow-flavored cocoa powder look richer and more full flavored. It also resulted in a cocoa that mixed readily with water, removed that unpleasant layer of liquid cocoa fat, was much easier on the stomach because of the decreased acidity, tasted great, and was easy to use.

Chocolate innovations: Dark chocolate, milk chocolate and boxed chocolate (1800s)

Now comes the really exciting part. Dark chocolate, used to form chocolate bars and confections, was invented in 1847 by Fry’s great-grandson, another Joseph Storrs Fry. He combined the dry cocoa powder with sugar and then added back some of the cocoa butter to produce a bar of chocolate that was solid at room temperature, but had a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth consistency. J.S. Fry & Sons won the contract to supply chocolate and cocoa powder to the Royal Navy and went on to become the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world by the late 1800s – proof of chocolate’s endearing flavor.

What is referred to as the Trinity of Quaker Chocolate in England was completed by the Roundtree Family (when they joined Quakers Fry and Cadbury) by opening their chocolate shop in York during this period as well.

In 1868, Cadbury’s created what is considered to be the first example of a chocolate box, developed by the family descendent, Richard Cadbury. It had a colorful lid depicting his daughter. In addition to that success, he went on to introduce the first Valentine's Day theme box, to the gratitude of men everywhere looking for gifts that would definitely be appreciated by their lovers. Beautiful boxes of chocolate have become their own art form. Just browse any fine chocolate or confectionery shop to see this high standard of packaging art. Some chocolatiers keep a traditional look in homage to their roots, while other chocolatiers change frequently to keep their modern edge.

Cadbury's company grew and his chocolate became a favorite of Queen Victoria, who bestowed a Royal Warrant, making the company the sole purveyor of chocolate to the Queen. All the chocolate companies founded by Quakers exist today, but Cadbury later merged with J.S. Fry & Sons in 1919 and then were purchased by Schweppes, Ltd. The Roundtree Brand is now owned by Nestlé.

The second exciting event, especially for lovers of milk chocolate, happened in 1875, when chocolate manufacturer Daniel Peter produced the first milk chocolate by using dry milk powder that had been invented by baby-food maker Henri Nestlé in 1867. He discovered how to add milk powder to the cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa butter to produce a more creamy taste and decrease the amount of the more expensive cocoa ingredients in the mixture. He founded Peter’s Chocolate Company and worked together with the Henri’s Nestlé Company to bring to market many chocolate products under both brands. The companies continued to work together, even after the deaths of the two founders, and later became the multinational companies we know today.

The taste and mouthfeel of eating chocolate was further refined with the addition of the technique called conching, invented by Swiss Rudolphe Lindt in 1879. This technique mixes the chocolate over a period of hours or days to refine the solid particles, such as cocoa solids and sugar, to a much smaller size, as well as to release volatile oils that cause bitterness. Before this process was invented, chocolate was still a little gritty and grainy. Now it became sumptuous and luxuriously smooth on the tongue. Hmmm, that reminds me it's time for a small bite of chocolate for research purposes only – to make sure it's conched properly.

Conching raised the bar on chocolate taste and all manufacturers added that extra step to their manufacturing processes. The Swiss are also credited with being the first to understand cocoa butter crystallization and the need to “temper” fine eating chocolate to retain the smooth, shiny appearance (much more about tempering later). These monumental improvements in confectionary technology gave rise to the financial fortunes of the Swiss companies for generations.

Industry boom, mass production and the great houses of chocolate (1800s to 1900s)

The industry boomed during the late 1800s. The shipments of cacao quadrupled to keep up with demand for chocolate. With the mass consumer popularity and affordability of hot chocolate, chocolate bars, and confections, chocolate companies vied for consumers by advertising, using colorful art posters that have gone on to became highly-prized collectibles today. The originals or reproductions hang on many a loft wall, punching up even the most modern decorating styles. I happen to love food posters of all kinds, but the chocolate companies produced the most whimsical and fun images. If you put “chocolate” into a search on websites like www.art.com you'll see the variety of companies who used this media for advertising their chocolate products.

Meanwhile, European consumers continued to be fixated on flavor, giving rise to the great chocolate houses of Belgium, Switzerland, and France, with chocolate manufacturers like Callebaut, Cocoa Berry, Valrhona, Weiss, Suchard, and Tobler. Chocolate shops proliferated in small towns and city neighborhoods. Chocolate became the gift of choice for most family and holiday occasions and gave rise to the modern luxury chocolatiers, including Belgium’s Godiva, Neuhaus, Mary Chocolatier, Wittamer, Pierre Marcolini Chocolatier Bruxelles, France’s La Maison du Chocolat, Michel Richart, Jean-Paul Hevin, Chocolaterie Patrick Roger and Italy’s Perugina, Slitti, Paul DeBondt, Vestri, Roberto Catanari and Luca Mannori.

Into the 20th century, British and American chocolate makers focused their efforts on mass production and price instead of quality. These key marketing strategies drove the industry in those countries until the close of the century. In the 1700s, chocolate production made its way back to North America, with the first chocolate mill established in 1765 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where chocolate was ground as a base for hot chocolate, a drink that was as popular in the Colonies as it was in Europe. At this time in chocolate’s history, it was considered a healthful drink that had beneficial medicinal qualities, such as providing energy. As I mentioned previously, chocolate could be a whole new area of medicine today if modern physicians took a cue from their predecessors in dispensing chocolate to relieve our aches and pains.

After that happy thought, back to history.

A more stable source of cocoa beans became available for grinding when fisherman from Massachusetts started accepting the beans as payment for cargo when they sailed the seas of Central America and the Caribbean. In 1765, John Hammon partnered with Dr. James Baker to produce chocolate from the beans. In 1780, Hannon's widow sold the Dorchester mill to Dr. Baker, who aspired to be a chocolate industrialist and the company was renamed Baker Chocolate Company.

Dr. Baker went on to make a number of products for both his retail customers and other chocolate makers, including a product that became a supermarket staple called Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate. It remained a family business until purchased by General Foods in 1927 and one of the most enduring American chocolate brands. Did you know that Jell-O Chocolate Pudding was originally "Walter Baker’s Dessert"?

Quaker Stephen F. Whitman opened his first confectionary in 1842 in Philadelphia when he was 19 years old, and today it is the oldest, continuously operating chocolate company in America. Whitman’s business strategy was to make chocolate and candy confections at an affordable price by manufacturing them himself. He came up with the idea of a printed box to market his products in 1854. His advertisements in newspapers were a success and, added to the medals and recognition he won for his products, proved he was not only a good chocolate maker, but a very savvy marketer.

Whitman's began to advertise in the Saturday Evening Post in 1909, and that tradition continued through the 20th century, with celebrities such as Bob Hope and Elizabeth Taylor posing for the ads and box tops. But the most important milestone for the company was the 1912 introduction of the now-famous Whitman’s Sampler, which went on to become the best-selling boxed candy in America.

The Sampler’s hinged lid, with an index on the underside, let customers pick their favorite type from a selection of their best-selling chocolates, including coconut creams, cherry cordials, caramel creams and assorted nut clusters. Whitman’s again revolutionized the boxed chocolate industry by wrapping their boxes in cellophane in 1924. The company continued to be a marketing powerhouse, developing the slogan: “A woman never forgets a man that remembers.” Working with General Electric, Whitman’s is credited with inventing the refrigerated display cabinet, which they provided to their retailers to display the Whitman line of tins and boxes.

In 1849, confectioner Domingo Ghirardelli came to San Francisco during the Gold Rush from his native Italy, via Uruguay and then Lima, Peru. In the process, he changed his name from the Italian Domenico to the Spanish Domingo. He realized he could turn the money he made as a prospector into even more money by selling chocolate bars, flavored with fruits, nuts, and liquors, to miners, so he set up a tent in downtown Stockton, California. Ghirardelli’s chocolates were a big hit and provided a small indulgence for even the poorest miners. He sent for his family, named the business Mrs. Ghirardelli & Co., and ended up importing 200 pounds of cocoa beans a year.

Ghirardelli was ready for another challenge, so he opened his factory in San Francisco in 1852. His company is credited with inventing the Broma process, which is still the standard in the industry today. The process is simple. It was discovered in 1865 when Ghirardelli workers hung a bag of chocolate in a warm room as an expirement. As the cocoa butter melted, it oozed through the bag, leaving the chocolate solids behind. These were then processed into ground chocolate to create what would become Ghirardelli's popular "Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa," a product that is still its signature product today.

Steam-driven presses replaced the bags, and the company went on to be very successful, importing more than 450,000 pounds of cocoa beans in 1885. That’s a lot of cocoa! Ghirardelli’s sons joined the company and, in 1893, Ghirardelli moved to the San Francisco waterfront. The Clock Tower, designed in the style of Chateau Blois in France, still anchors the corner today. The building of the 15-foot lighted Ghirardelli’s sign welcoming ships into the harbor came in 1923. Later, the factory underwent a major renovation to become a shopping destination, and it was declared an official San Francisco landmark in 1965. In 1967, the company’s chocolate production was moved to San Leandro, California, where land costs were cheaper.

Etienne Guittard also came to San Francisco from France to seek his fortune during the Gold Rush. After spending three years in the Sierras, he returned to San Francisco and saw a need for luxury products for the successful miners coming into town to spend their money. He went back to Paris to work in his uncle's chocolate factory in order to raise money to buy chocolate manufacturing equipment. He brought his newfound expertise and equipment back to San Francisco and started Guittard Chocolate Company in 1868.

The company prospered, surviving even the fire of 1906, which destroyed the plant. Guittard’s son, Horace C., built a new-and-improved factory, and Guittard expanded again and again, eventually selling not only chocolate, but coffee, tea, and spices as well. In 1954, the company moved out of downtown San Francisco to its current location, a few miles south in Burlingame.

Chocolate manufacturers from the eastern part of the United States couldn’t ship their finished chocolate across the country or around the Cape without it spoiling, so for many years, Ghirardelli and Guittard had the western United States as their sole market.

Henry Oscar Wilbur owned a successful confectionery business with partner Sam Croft in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1884 they divided the company, with Henry taking the chocolate manufacturing part of the business, and H.O. Wilbur & Sons was born. The company sold bulk chocolate to retail candy makers. The business was so successful that Wilbur retired and left the operation of the business to his sons. In 1893 the company created its now famous “Wilbur Buds” which are shaped similar to a Hershey’s Kiss but have “bud” like indentations on the bottom. Since Wilbur Buds predated the Hershey’s Kiss by 14 years, there is some speculation that Milton Hershey might have “borrowed” the idea from his neighbor. We can’t fault Hershey for knowing a good thing when he saw it. Many other chocolate manufacturers and makers travel the world gaining inspiration from one another.

In 1905, Wilbur’s grandson, Lawrence H. Wilbur, was trained in Germany and was tutored in the manufacture of chocolate by Steve Oriole. He developed the machine to foil-wrap Wilbur Buds. Over time, the Buds lost their foil wrapping and are now sold naked in boxes or bags. This might be in response to the Hershey’s Kiss foil wrapping as a way to differentiate from the Buds. Hershey did miss the opportunity to patent the foil wrapping, but was able to patent the flag that juts out of the kiss which was registered as a company trademark in 1924.

Wilbur continued to prosper and, in 1928, a partnership with the Swiss firm Suchard to manufacture their product line in America led to a name change: Wilbur-Suchard Chocolate Company, Inc. The Brewster-Ideal Chocolate Co., of Lititz, Pennsylvania, and Newark, New Jersey, was merged into the new business as well. The new entity concentrated on consumer goods (producing Suchard foiled squares and numerous bars for vending machines) out of the three separate factories in Newark, Lititz and Philadelphia. The 1900s saw the company bought and sold a number of times, until the name was finally changed to Wilbur Chocolate Company in 1958.

Meanwhile, up the road, the famous Hershey Bar got its start when Milton S. Hershey, a Mennonite, was apprenticed at 15 to a confectionery store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. At 19, he had his own candy business, which grew into a caramel manufacturing company. As owner of the Lancaster Caramel Company, Hershey traveled to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The Exposition is credited with introducing Americans to the European technological advancements in chocolate manufacturing, as well as a number of new chocolate products.

Based on his experience at the Exposition, Hershey felt caramels were a fad and chocolate was the candy of the future. Excited by the German chocolate-making equipment, Hershey promptly bought it and went on to sell his Lancaster Caramel Company for a million dollars to focus on chocolate manufacturing.

Hershey built his plant and a town, called Hersheyville, to house and provide for his employees in the Pennsylvania dairy country, in order to be close to a source of milk. Admiring the Quaker ideal of humanitarian service, and the English Quaker towns founded by Fry and Cadbury, he used those as a model for his town. Hersheyville, with the Hershey Mansion at the center of the town, grew to have its own bank, orphanage, department store and golf course. Hersheyville survives to this day as Hershey’s Chocolate World and Hersheypark, complete with streetlights in the shape of Hershey Kisses.

Hershey’s business strategy was to produce an affordable milk chocolate bar for the American public. In 1900, he realized his goal by using mass production methods and launched the Milk Chocolate Hershey Bar that changed the way Americans ate chocolate. In the process he became known as the Henry Ford of the chocolate industry. He replaced a percentage of the cocoa butter in the chocolate with solid vegetable oils to make the bars affordable and less apt to melt. The bar was the first product to be marketed across the country. It was followed by the Hershey’s Kiss, that famous foil-wrapped bite of chocolate.

On May 9, 1894, Otto J. Scholenleber founded the Ambrosia Chocolate Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Scholenleber named the company in honor of Theobroma cacao: "Food of the Gods." The company focused on solid chocolate confectionery, baking chocolate, and cocoa for consumers, then expanded to chocolate bars to fill vending machines. Mr. Schoenleber's daughter Gretchen brought the company out of the Depression by focusing on Dutch-processed cocoa and, in so doing, became the first women member of the New York Cocoa Exchange.

With the opening of the transcontinental railroads in 1869 and the Panama Canal in 1914, Ghirardelli and Guittard’s hold on the western retail chocolate market was breached as Hershey’s sent their product west. Their chocolate bars and cocoa competed very successfully with the western manufacturers, as Hershey’s products were affordable and the company was a fierce marketing force.

In 1901, an American from the Lamont, Corliss and Co. sales company was on business in England. He had an opportunity to taste Peter’s Milk Chocolate Gala Bar. He hadn’t tasted anything like it in America and negotiated for his company to be the North American sales representative and import the chocolate from Europe to their customers in America. That venture was so successful that Peter's Chocolate Company began manufacturing in the United States at a plant in Fulton, New York in 1908. It was eventually bought by the company that represented them and became part of Nestlé's Chocolate Company in 1951, famous not only for the chocolate bar Nestlé's Crunch, but also for their hot cocoa mix (Nestlé's Quik) and Nestlé's Toll House Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels. In 2002, Peter's Chocolate left Nestlé and was bought by Cargill Foods Company, Inc., and continues to produce a broad range of chocolate products and sells them across North America to customers, such as confectionery manufacturers, bakeries, candy craft-supply shops, and ice cream novelty manufacturers.

In 1911 Frank and Ethel Mars founded their candy business from their home in Tacoma, Washington. They started selling butter cream chocolate candies. Mars was inspired by the soda fountain treat "malted milk." He wanted to produce a portable version and, in 1920, launched the Milky Way Bar that was an instant success. That was followed by the Snickers Bar, named after the Mars' favorite horse, and according to the National Confectioners Association today, it is the number one selling bar in the US.

Mars also got into the vending machine industry, a strategic move that sprang from the need to make its candy products available to consumers outside traditional stores. Their success with building machines to serve their candy and snack food brands led to the invention of the vending systems for drinks. Mars vending machine engineers also invented the first electronic vending system and now offer cash-acceptance technology for use in vending machines.

American chocolate candy and hot cocoa (The Depression and World Wars: early 1900s)

In 1908, while at church in Tacoma, Washington, Harry L. Brown, who owned a small confectionery store, met J. C. Haley, who was in sales and advertising. They began to work together and, in 1914, incorporated their candy manufacturing business, Brown & Haley. The business was successful, fueled by proximity to Fort Lewis during World War I. The creation of Almond Roca, that tiny log-shaped almond buttercrunch toffee bar coated with chocolate and diced almonds and wrapped in gold foil, sent sales soaring for the company in 1923. Brown and Haley added the trademark pink tin in 1927.

The popularity of the American chocolate bar can be traced back to World War I. The U.S. Army bought large blocks of chocolate, which it shipped to its bases in the field. The blocks were then chopped into smaller pieces and distributed to the soldiers to extend their rations. The Army finally got smart and asked the manufacturers to make smaller bars that came ready to eat. By the time the war ended, American troops were “hooked” on chocolate, especially Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars.

Chocolate bar production exploded in the 1920s, as candy bar manufacturing reached an all-time high. The five-cent candy bar was a hit and, in 1923, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups sold for one cent each. At one time, there were more than 40,000 different candy bars on the market. The Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA) was established in 1923. In 1925, the New York Cocoa Exchange was founded, reflecting the success of the chocolate industry in America.

In 1921, a German immigrant, August Merckens, Sr., started Merckens Chocolate Company of Buffalo, New York, by purchasing Reed Chocolate Company, which had been established since 1908. His son, August Merckens, Jr., developed a number of products, such as the Yucatan Vanilla chocolate, Ivory Milk, in 1928 and Marquis Milk Chocolate in 1938. The company survived the Depression and World War II. At the end of the war in 1947, Merckens introduced its line of Rainbow Confectionery products and a hot cocoa mix that would be the forerunner of instant cocoa. The instant cocoa only needed the addition of water to make hot cocoa. Consolidated Foods purchased Merckens Chocolate Company in 1955, and was then purchased by the Welch Candy Company in 1961. In 1967, a system to manufacture Dutch cocoa was installed.

L.K. Van Leer imported Holland Dutch Cocoa Powders out of New Jersey in 1930 and then went into the chocolate manufacturing business in 1950. They sold chocolate, compound chocolate, ice cream bar coatings, dietetic chocolate and cocoa powders to industry. Van Leer became the leading chocolate producer for ice cream manufacturers, including Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. They believed in service, having a chocolate “doctor” on call to answer questions. Van Leer Chocolate Corporation was sold to Barry Callebaut in 1998.

Originally, the candy bar industry was centered on the Eastern seaboard. However, it quickly moved to the Midwest to be close to sources of ingredients like corn syrup and milk. Blommer Chocolate was founded in 1939 in Chicago, Illinois, by brothers Henry, Al and Bernard Blommer. They were very successful in selling bulk chocolate to chocolate makers and in 1948, expanded with the Blommer Chocolate Factory of California in Los Angeles. They purchased Boldemann Chocolate of San Francisco in 1952 and then consolidated into one large plant in Union City in 1970. Another expansion took them further East to East Greenville, Pennsylvania in 1980 and that plant has since been expanded. Blommer is now the largest supplier of bulk chocolate in North America, and number four globally.

Chocolate bars became the chocolate of choice for Americans after World War II. Hershey’s provided the Ration D bar that went into battle with the soldiers in WWII. It was specially made so it wouldn’t melt in hot jungles and would provide 450 calories, including vitamin B1 to prevent beriberi. Frank Mars' son Forrest Mars formed M&M, Ltd., with Hershey’s ex-President Bruce Murrie. Together they came up with the idea of giving chocolate a candy coating to keep it from melting during the summer months – and M&M candies were born! M&M’s were originally launched as a tiny milk chocolate bar in a candy wrapping before becoming the bagged, bite-sized candies with the slogan “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand.” They were adopted as a staple ration for U.S. forces in 1941 in the original colors of brown, yellow, red, green and violet.

Starting in the mid 1900s, many great chocolate brands were born, such as Brachs, Fannie May Chocolates, EthelM, Fanny Farmer Candies, H. B. Reese Candy Company, L. S. Heath & Sons, Russell Stover’s, and See's Candies, to name just a few.

The popularity in America of Belgian and French chocolates, truffles and dark chocolate (1980s)

In the 1980s a shift happened in the American retail chocolate industry. Chocolates made in the French or Belgian manner were attracting attention and patrons. Especially captivating was a small, simple confection called a chocolate “truffle” that was very different in flavor from the sweet cream or caramel-centered chocolates usually offered in chocolate shops across the country. These truffles were made with the finest chocolate inside and out, richly-flavored and expensive, considering the cost of American sugar-recipe-centered chocolates at the time.

Many budding chocolatiers, including myself, made pilgrimages to Cocolat in Berkeley, California, to get inspiration and courage to start their own businesses using the best chocolate they could source. I remember having my first truffle at Cocolat, followed the next year by a tiny bit of wonder made from French Valrhona chocolate by Michel Girard when he had his truffle shop in New York in the 1980s. That experience gave me the confidence to recreate that level of quality at a price my customers would hopefully pay. The changing trend was all about using less sugar and better quality chocolate in confections produced right in the shop, usually by the chocolatier who was the owner as well. This matched perfectly with the rise of Julia Child, lifestyle cookbooks, culinary and travel magazines, gourmet dining and fine wine consumption.

Baby Boomers had gone backpacking in Europe and were now settling down to real life, but were still wanting the quality chocolate experience they had found in Europe. This produced a market of consumers who remembered and were willing to pay a little more to support the small independent chocolatier. That trend continues today as their children, who grew up with both classic and luxury chocolate on the table, have joined their parents in supporting better quality chocolate with their wallets and pocketbooks.

A study by the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (which has since disbanded– those members are now part of the National Confectioners Association) found that dark chocolate has doubled in popularity over the past 10 years, with the latest poll showing that 30% of Americans now prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Jacques Torres Haven, Theo and DeVries Chocolate, among others, now manufacture chocolate in flavors that reflect this trend away from sugar and toward a darker, richer flavor.

Sustainable, organic, single-bean and specialty chocolates (1990s to present)

The 1990s saw the birth of organic and specialty chocolates. Steven C. Wallace founded the Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company in 1991 and produces chocolate entirely in Ghana. His interest in Ghana and chocolate was formed by his experience as a foreign exchange student in 1978. Steven was convinced that, in his words, “If Ghana could grow the ’world's finest cocoa,’ it ought to be able to produce some of the world's finest chocolate.” He believed that chocolate made from beans right where they were grown was bound to have a better flavor than chocolate made from beans that had been shipped on a long voyage to America. So he arranged for his bars to be made in Ghana and then shipped to him in the United States for distribution.

In 1994, Omanhene was the first company to introduce a single bean chocolate to world markets where previously, bulk chocolates were made from blends of different beans. The word "Omanhene" (oh-mahn-hee-nee) comes from the Twi language and is the title for the traditional king or chief. Controlling the process from the source has been a hard, but rewarding accomplishment for Steven.

Pierrick Chouard founded Vintage Chocolate Imports in 1993. He earned an Engineering Degree in Tropical Agronomics and then worked for chocolate companies such as M&M Mars, Neuhaus and Leonidas. He formed the company to sell chocolates and cacao products from the small cocoa plantations, stocking and distributing more than 1,500 raw, semi-finished, and finished chocolates.

After five years of effort, Pierrick then developed his Plantations Shaded Cocoa and Chocolates Collection to guarantee a market outlet for cocoa farmers following the guidelines of the Rainforest Alliance. In doing that, he also created a market previously unavailable for these family farms based on sustainable agriculture methods. He leads the fight to protect the genetic diversity of aromatic or flavor cocoas, declaring: “Vintage Chocolates, the importing arm of the company, defends and promotes the original taste of chocolate, and works against its degradation into a synthetic, flavored commodity; a recurring trend in the food industry.”

Nell Newman had a passion for chocolate that caused her to add chocolate bars to her and partner Peter Meehan’s Newman's Own Organics, a division of her father's successful Newman's Own brand. A fortuitous meeting with a retired chocolate expert at the 1994 Winter Fancy Food Show started the process. Then came the hard work of sourcing organic chocolate and other ingredients.

Newman’s Own Organics' products are certified by Oregon Tilth. Ingredients have been grown on farms that have not used artificial fertilizers or pesticides for three years or more. The organic cacao comes from the Talamanca region on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica. "Besides my love for chocolate, I was drawn to this project because it meant supporting sustainable agriculture in Costa Rica. Growing the cacao in this ancient way meant that no rainforests would need to be destroyed. We want to encourage this method by supporting the farmers economically," Nell says. All the other ingredients come from organic sources, such as: organic sugar from Mexico and Paraguay, organic vanilla from Madagascar and organic dairy ingredients from Horizon Dairy, Colorado.

Dr. Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger founded Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Inc., in 1996. The idea of creating a small chocolate manufacturing plant to produce fine quality chocolate began when Robert’s love of fine food landed him an internship at Bernachon Chocolatier in Lyon, France. Returning to San Francisco, he approached his friend John Scharffenberger with the idea. John had recently sold his successful winery and that experience seemed like the perfect fit for a new venture focused on another very popular gourmet food product. 

It took Robert and John a lot of experimentation and testing to finally produce a chocolate on the same high level as the chocolate Robert had experienced in France. The business was born in a small warehouse in South San Francisco. They soon ran out of room and moved to their current factory in Berkeley, California, in 2001. It’s a renovated 1906 brick and mortar building with thick walls that provide a cooler environment for chocolate production and it is open to the public for tours.

Jacques Torres, pastry chef and TV Food Network star, certainly isn’t resting on his laurels. He left the pastry world in 2000 and opened his original chocolate shop and factory in Brooklyn. In 2004 he opened his own chocolate manufacturing plant, Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven, in the SOHO district of Manhattan. It is an expensive piece of real estate, but Torres is gambling that opening his factory to his cadre of chocolate fans will be a success. His second shop is right in the middle of the action, as the factory floor wraps around on three sides. You can actually watch the chocolates being made while you sip a warm mug of hot chocolate because the factory has glass walls into the shop and also out to the street. Torres manufactures a full line of products to stock his chocolate shops as well as supply wholesale customers, including bonbons, bars, and hot chocolate mix. And, yes, Torres actually works in the factory. He was there on the day I visited, chatting with customers while apologizing for the chocolate smears on his jacket. Not a problem, Jacques! That’s what chef's jackets are for.

Steve DeVries opened DeVries Chocolate with a tag line of “one hundred years behind the times” in 2005, after six years of studying chocolate – three years as an intense hobby and three years full time after selling his glass company. He produces both bulk chocolate for use by chefs, candy makers and chocolatiers, as well as retail bars that can be found in specialty food shops or purchased through his website. He is intimately involved in the whole process of chocolate making, from working directly with growers to being hands-on with the manufacturing process using all antique equipment. He has learned with chocolate that changes in production processes can mean major improvements in flavor.

Because of the work of these pioneers, we can now find craft chocolate makers all over the globe. For the latest list of fine chocolate manufacturers and craft chocolate makers go to our Chocolate Makers page. There are now over 60 on that list from very tiny operations to traditional companies like Valrhona.

The world of fine chocolatiers has grown, with North America leading the nations outside of Europe in supporting their local chocolate artists. I'm happy to report that many of our graduates are among those businesses started in the last 10 years.

Want to see what the future has in store? In honor of our 10th Anniversary, Ecole Chocolat published: Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. The book sets out on a global journey – from cacao gene and cocoa bean to chocolate bar and bonbon – to gauge the future of the world's finest chocolate as told through the eyes of people who live chocolate every day and strive to preserve its richest, most complex and endangered forms for future generations. We think you'll enjoy the read.

Research resources

Interested in more in depth history? We recommend The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe.

Read the following resources to broaden your understanding of chocolate's unique history – from its migration from Central America to growing regions snuggling against the equator around the world, to its use as a drink and barter for Olmec/Maya civilizations, to the sophisticated salons of Europe and, finally, as the ever-present chocolate bar found across the globe.

World Cocoa Foundation

Candy USA




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