As was well put in blogger Nicola’s “The Towns That Chocolate Built” on ediblegeography.com, “a penchant for town planning and urban improvement was a traditional eccentricity of chocolate manufacturers.” Milton Hershey and the Cadbury family are the most well known for this penchant, having created the utopian villages of Hershey (Pennsylvania US) and Bournville (Birmingham England). Tim Richardson recounts many similar though lesser-known villages of chocolate manufacturers like Rowntree’s, Menier, Sprungli, Tobler in his book Sweets: A History of Temptation. This post will explore the creation of these townships, focusing on Hershey and Bournville. The reverence still afforded to Bournville and Hershey PA can evidence the power and success of the founding ideals of the utopian chocolate villages.
In his blog, Nicola calls chocolate-makers “outsiders.” Many were in fact Quaker or otherwise “non-conformist” (Nicola, Hardman), meaning they were not able to attend universities or join the military. So, chocolate making was one option of somewhat limited options. Chocolate was also, according to Douglas Blyde, a food writer frequently cited by Nicola, “…a possible corrective to the social ruin caused by alcohol.” The “reform-minded outsiders” of the chocolate business strove to create communities where life was pleasant and sinful temptations removed. This would make for a better sociality. Bryson and Lowe in their reconstruction of the history of Bournville say of George Cadbury’s motivation: “He came to believe that such an environment [typical living situation] resulted in deterioration in physical ability and a ‘diminished power to resist temptations to intemperance and to other vices’” (Bryson). Thus the proposed rationale for the driving factors towards the chocolate-maker profession for “outsiders” (some Quakers like the Cadburys and Rowntrees) also directly affected life and the regulations imposed by the idealist societies.
The Cadburys and Milton Hershey were similarly motivated by humanitarian tendencies to improve otherwise dire living conditions. These tendencies may derive from religion or other facets of their personalities, but the pure intentions in the creation of these townships are true. As Michael D’Antonio writes in his history of the Hershey company, “the charity in Milton Hershey’s heart was sincere” (D’Antonio 128). The townships are certainly a combination of this charity and humanitarianism and pragmatic economics. Chocolate, after all, is an artisanal good for which workers heavily influence the final product (Richardson via Nicola). Nicola comments that the Cadburys believed “improving the welfare of their staff would le[a]d, ultimately, to a more profitable business.” The creation of these model towns that accompanied several chocolate factories of the 20th century was thus rooted in religion, philanthropy, humanism, idealism, and good business.
Today, Bournville and Hershey still exist with important relics of their past. Nicola cites Blyde to this effect: “modern Bournville is also webbed in well-intentioned regulation, covering hedge height, door- and window-frame colour, with bans enforced on visible satellite dishes, parked caravans, paved front gardens, takeaway restaurants, and uPVC windows” (Nicola). Still today, there are no licensed vendors of alcohol in Bournville and the town is described as idyllic, reminiscent of the Truman Show or The Stepford Wives (Lonsdale).
Hershey is a similar, though far more sensationalized case. In a segment of Sentimental Reflections on Hershey Pennsylvania, the program declares, “while the look of Hershey park has changed over the years, it continues to be one of the most popular attractions in town.” Milton took his desire to “benefit and nurture his workers” to somewhat of an extreme, building rollercoasters (the precursor to today’s full-blown amusement park) and other amenities for recreational opportunity. The main idea is still there. In its beginning, Hershey was brimming with local pride and self regaled as “America’s most remarkable town;” today, tourism officials refer to Hershey as “the Sweetest Place on Earth” (D’Antonio 132, Sentimental Reflections). The continued happy existence of Hershey Pennsylvania and Bournville are a testament to their founders’ visions, which included novel conveniences at the time, providing an example of morality in industry.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. p128, 132. Print.
Nicola. “The Towns That Chocolate Built.” Edible Geography. 8 Apr. 2010. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
Lonsdale, Sarah. “The Chocolate-box Village Is Born Again.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 8 Jan. 2005. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
Hardman, Robert20. “Cadbury’s and the Quakers’ Vision of Utopia That Built a British Institution.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
Bryson, John R., and Philippa A. Lowe. “Story-telling and History Construction: Rereading George Cadbury’s Bournville Model Village.” Journal of Historical Geography 28.1 (2002): 21-41. doi: 10.1006/jhge.2001.0372. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
Sentimental Reflections Hershey, Pennsylvania. Sentimental Productions, 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVdxAfR0ZL8>.