How the Industrial Revolution Made Chocolate for the Masses Possible

From the Aztec and Mayan Empires to Europe and the New World, the chocolate drink of the elites became the solid treat for the masses. This remarkable transition was no easy process and did not happen over night. Many great minds emerged to shape the production and use of cacao by inventing processes and machinery to meet the world-wide high demand of chocolate. Without the brilliant confectionary minds that shaped the Industrial Revolution, the chocolate the world knows and loves today would not exist.

Sugar Production

Sugar Plantation in Laurel Valley

One of the most vital components of chocolate is sucrose (sugar), which is commercially extracted from several plants; and the simplification of sugar production is the start of what made chocolate for the masses possible (Mintz 19). The technology required for sugar’s cultivation and conversion encountered many obstacles, but one decisive step emerged (Mintz 25). The vertical three-roller mill was powered by water or animals and it eased the labor and time of sugar production (Mintz 25). The Crusades spread the use of sugar through Europe, and soon European countries were establishing sugar-producing colonies (Mintz 28/42). Without the new machinery and simplification of the sugar process, the sugar plantations would not have been able to meet the high and growing demand of sugar. “No other food in world history has had a comparable performance” in rise in consumption (Mintz 73).

Chocolate Production

The simplification and experimentation with cacao started with early documented uses of power machinery in the American colonies (Coe 227). 1776, in Europe, M. Doret began the use of machinery in chocolate confectionery with his invention of a hydraulic machine to grind chocolate into a paste (Coe 227). While at the larger market, “cacao beans were being ground on a machine that consisted of five rollers of polished steel” (Coe 227). These advances in machinery started to make mass production a reality. The Industrial Revolution started transforming chocolate from a “costly drink to a cheap food” (232). With these changes came the change in the per capita consumption of chocolate, which had maintained consistently, but now was surging dramatically with the rise in sugar consumption following (Coe 234).

The Big Changes

Conching machine

1828 started the beginning of the modern era of chocolate making and production with Dutch chemist, Conrad Johanness Van Houten, who took a process patent to manufacture a powdered chocolate with low fat content (Coe 234). He then developed a very efficient hydraulic press, which reduced the cacao butter content of chocolate liquor to 27-28 percent and eventually pulverized it to cacao (Coe 234). This was the fundamental invention that made cheap chocolate for the masses a possible reality. Another important year was 1847, when the Fry firm discovered how to mix a blend of cocoa powder and sugar with melted cacao butter which could be molded into chocolate bars (Coe 241). In 1867, Henri Nestle, a Swiss chemist, discovered how to make powdered milk by evaporation (Coe 247). This discovery made it possible for Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, to use Nestle’s powder in a new production of a milk chocolate bar in 1879 (Coe 247).

The changes of quality of chocolate were the next steps in the chocolate making process. 1879, Rudolph Lindt invented “conching”, which made the coarse and gritty chocolate a now smooth and creamy experience (Coe 247). Milton Hershey was another key figure in the chocolate world founding his own in Pennsylvania; with a social conscience he was able to bring chocolate to everyone (Coe 249). Hershey’s Kisses today are made in the millions making chocolate in the masses for the masses (Coe 252). Without the key figures in chocolate manufacturing, chocolate for the masses would have never became a reality. The drink of the elites in Mesoamerica was made into a treat for the masses with the brilliant minds and machinery that emerged from the Industrial Revolution, but without these key figures and inventions, chocolate may never have been available to everyone to enjoy.

Chocolate World Tour In Hershey, PA


All photos from Flickr.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

“Hershey Chocolate World Factory Tour Full Ride – It’s the Milk Chocolate!” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.



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