The Popularization of Chocolate

Amidst the frenzy of the industrial revolution, liquid chocolate was a dying breed. Its requisite painstaking preparation became increasingly unappetizing to a culture where ease and convenience of food was elevated over all. Thus, as industrial practices allowed chocolate to be cemented into its bar form, its popularity soared, mirroring the popularity of other types of easily prepared, pre-packaged foods. It was the conjunction of this specific demand for convenience foods and chocolate’s timely transformation into a bar that enabled chocolate to ride the train of industrialization to become a popular food for the masses.

The techniques developed for preservation and mass production of food were key players in the popularization of convenience food. Canning, freezing,and simple technological adjustments that allowed mass production, in particular, allowed the shelf lives of certain types of foods to be considerably extended, fundamentally changing the diets of Americans and Europeans and eventually triggering a demand for pre-packaged cuisine in the 19th century (Goody 77). This change was eagerly welcomed by a growing force of industrial laborers that had neither the time nor the energy to toil over their kitchen stoves, nursing elaborate meal preparations for their families. A Campbell’s Soup advertisement perfectly captures this sentiment in the voice of a 20th century housewife—”I have all the handy contrivances that save more than they cost. And we never make our own soup. I use Campbell’s Soups. So do thousands of careful and capable housewives who are abreast of modern ideas” (“15 Hottest Food Trends…”). A Nestle baby food ad from the same era further highlighting this trend—while perhaps, causing our 21st century sensibilities to bristle—emphasizes that the food is “powdered and packaged in an air-tight can” (“Infant Formula”).

Campbell's Soup Advertisement from 1912
Campbell’s Soup Advertisement from 1912
Nestle Food Advertisement from 1915
Nestle Food Advertisement from 1915

Chocolate followed a similar trajectory, hitting a number of key innovations before becoming widely accepted as a staple food of the masses. Van Houten’s defatting and alkalization process made chocolate drinks cheaper, easier, and tastier, prompting their subjection to large-scale manufacture (Coe and Coe 235). Joseph Fry’s invention of the chocolate bar was probably the key development that accelerated chocolate’s preeminence, singlehandedly transforming the nature of the substance so deeply that the resultant confection bore hardly any resemblance to its frothy ancestor (Coe and Coe 241). This finally released chocolate from its impenetrable golden shackles and catapulted it into the grabby hands of the immediacy-seeking industrial masses. Lastly, the organization of a mass, assembly-line operation for chocolate by people such as Milton Hershey in the early 1900s was the final piece of the chocolate popularization equation, elevating chocolate and its few monopolistic makers to omnipresence throughout society (Coe and Coe 252).

As the material substance and the accessibility of chocolate changed, they transformed how chocolate figured into the psyche of the masses. Before, chocolate was a fancy drink for the elite, but upon being converted into a solid, it joined a horde of bars and cans on grocers’ shelves that all signaled immediacy and convenience. Furthermore, it became increasingly important for companies to brand themselves as the popular choice, since they were serving massive numbers of the population (Goody 85). These changes can be seen when comparing chocolate drink ads from before, which highlight the quality of chocolate—”invigorating, stimulating…delicious flavor and aroma” (“The Surprising Manly History…”)—and the solid chocolate ads after the change, which emphasize the brand name and the convenience with which chocolate can be eaten—”no cutting-no shaving- just melt” (Chapman), and “Housekeepers…should make sure that their grocer does not give them any of the imitations now on the market. Look for the Trade Mark on every package” (“History of Chocolate Exhibit…”).

Baker's Advertisement highlighting the quality of the chocolate
Baker’s Advertisement highlighting the quality of the chocolate
Hershey's Advertisement highlighting the easy preparation of the chocolate
Hershey’s Advertisement highlighting the easy preparation of the chocolate
Baker's Chocolate Advertisement with branding
Baker’s Chocolate Advertisement with branding

Chocolate’s ascendancy as a convenient, packaged food paralleled the rise of other pre-packaged foods, all feeding into a culture obsessed with convenience. As the demand for chocolate continuously interacted with the technological developments it underwent, chocolate was transformed from an elusive drink of the rich into a household staple dessert, and now, chocolate is no longer just a snack, but a powerfully uniting force—a symbol of comfort, indulgence, and pleasure that has become so ingrained into our psyche that we cannot imagine life without it.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. In Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Multimedia Sources

“15 Hottest Food Trends Of 1912.” Do It Yourself. 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://diybusinessnews.com/15-hottest-food-trends-of-1912/&gt;.

Chapman, Callum. “Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth With These Delicious Vintage Advertisements.” Design & Illustration. Tuts, 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://design.tutsplus.com/articles/satisfy-your-sweet-tooth-with-these-delicious-vintage-advertisements–psd-11704&gt;.

“History of Chocolate Exhibit at the North House.” Greenbrier Historical Society North House Museum Archives. 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://www.blog.greenbrierhistorical.org/2013/04/history-of-chocolate-exhibit-at-the-north-house/&gt;.

“Infant Formula.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_formula&gt;.

“The Surprisingly Manly History of Hot Cocoa.” The Art of Manliness. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/12/17/the-surprisingly-manly-history-of-hot-cocoa/&gt;.

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