Industrial Progress: How the industrialization of chocolate morphed function and accessibility

Throughout its history, chocolate has maintained a relatively stable existence in terms of its functions and production.  While there have been periods of change, there have also been long stretches of time where chocolate use stayed consistent.  For example, in Mesoamerica from as early as 1800 BCE to as late as 900 CE chocolate was consumed as a beverage and used in a variety of religious ceremonies (C-Spot).  However, when brought to Europe in the early 1500s, chocolate went through a period of rapid change. Most significantly, chocolate’s industrialization led to a change in its accessibility, highlighting how advancements in production methodology and advertising of chocolate altered its social standing and class function.  Through careful examination of key events in the industrial timeline of chocolate, four stages can be identified that each show a transition in the industrial development, ultimately linked to societal structure and function.

Starting in the 16th and 17th centuries, chocolate was introduced to Europe as a drink for the aristocracy.  Over these two centuries, chocolate served a variety of functions, of which some are no longer recognized in modern society.  In 1556, the earliest recipe for chocolate was documented in Spain.  This recipe, collected by a lieutenant of Captain Hernán Cortés, relates how the cacao beans are ground into powder, mixed with water until foamy, and then stirred with gold or silver spoons until drunk.  This was an especially common recipe in Mesoamerica.  The entry then declares that this drink is the “most wholesome and substantial of any food or beverage in the world…whoever drinks a cup of this liquor can go thru a whole day without taking anything else even if on a cross country journey” (C-Spot).  This account clearly relates cacao’s function as a hearty beverage with a substantial amount of nutritional value.  However, the function of cacao changes in the 1580s when it contributes to the humoral theory of medicine in that its “hot” nature combats poison, alleviates intestinal discomfort, and cures a variety of other ailments (Coe 122).  This functional form sticks with chocolate into the 1600s where its increasing demand eventually leads to European plantations in the Caribbean that operate to ensure a steady supply of cacao for the European elite.  In fact, the elite were so floored by chocolate that in 1657 the first chocolate house was established in London (C-Spot).  These houses were the cultural and political hub for society’s elite (Coe 223).  To get a historical and social sense of a chocolate house in England, this article by Dr. Matthew Green published in The Telegraph is quite informative. Dr. Green does a great job of capturing the sophisticated nature of these houses, particularly those of the super elite on St. James Square.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, chocolate was served to the elites of Europe in a variety of functions ranging from a medicine to a simple, yet powerful, beverage.  However, as the 18th and 19th centuries approached, a more transitional period of chocolate began to take form, in which production was industrialized and the final product was made more accessible to the middle class.  Starting in 1764, the first power machinery was used in chocolate production, in the form of a grist mill, used to grind cacao beans by Baker’s Chocolate in Dorchester, Massachusetts (Coe 227).  Baker’s Chocolate was founded on the pillars of purity of product, mass production, money-back guarantee, and affordability (C-Spot).  These pillars emphasize the shift from the chocolate drink as an item of the elite to a mass produced and advertised product accessible to a range of social classes.  This evolution of chocolate manufacturing continued in 1828 when Coenraad Johannes van Houten received a patent for his screw press, used to separate fat from the roasted cacao beans (C-Spot).  This method was an inexpensive way of removing fat and leaving behind a cake that could be ground into a fine powder (C-Spot).  Later call the Dutch Process, it was promoted by van Houten as “for the rich and poor – made instantly – easier than tea” (C-Spot).  It was even thought of as a more suitable chocolate for women and children as this process removed the bitterness found in untreated cacao (C-Spot).  The last industrial innovation of note was the first mass-marketed chocolate bar produced by Fry’s Chocolate.  In 1847, Francis and Joseph Fry were able to perfect the chocolate mixture in a moldable form, thus forming the first bar (Coe 241).  As can be seen in the advertisement below, Fry’s Chocolate consumption was directed at children due to its sweeter taste, and thus more accessible when compared to the 16th and 17th centuries.

Fry’s Chocolate Advertisement

Following the development of the Fry’s chocolate bar, many chocolate companies began to follow suit by creating chocolate treats that could be mass produced and bought by the public.  This was a time in which “industrial decadence”, or the ability for food to be produced on an industrial level, greatly improved the quality and variety of diets for the middle and working class population (Goody 72).  This statement holds true for chocolate production.  In fact, the time stretching from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s was a period marked by innovation and branding of different forms of chocolate delights.  Below, one can find a timeline of the most popular brands of chocolate introduced during this period.  These brands still exist today and mark the beginning of a period of refined

Timeline of Chocolate Brand Introduction

and obtainable chocolate for all social classes.  There are a few events deserving specific attention as they highlight the theme of chocolate industrialization and its effects on accessibility, mass marketing, and mass production.  For example, in 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé created milk chocolate using Nestlé’s powdered milk, creating a sweeter chocolate to be enjoyed by a wider range of people (Coe 247).  Other similar advancements include, Rudolph Lindt’s conche machine in 1879, which created a smoother sensory experience and the invention of the Toblerone in 1908 as a different approach to chocolate involving a mold and filling (Coe 247, 248).  These developments, along with the introduction of a variety of chocolate products, ushered in an era of mass production and accessibility.


The last stage of chocolate industrialization is the current one.  While the bars and candies discussed above still exist today, there is now a distinction between this “grocery store chocolate” and fine chocolate made by the chocolatier.  This term is used to describe a person that uses fine chocolate to create unique creations using machinery but also hand production (Martin, Lecture 4).  An example of this process is seen at Taza Chocolate factory in Somerville, MA.  Below is a video of their production process, which highlights their hands-on and “bean to bar” practice.  It appears that this distinction between fine

and “grocery store” chocolate has arisen due to a change in consumers’ preference for sustainable and fair trade foods.  While people occasionally love to get their hands on a Milky Way, many consumers are attracted to the idea of a pure chocolate bar whose ingredients can be traced throughout the entire production process.

Over time, the function and accessibility of chocolate has shifted to mirror the industrial aspects of its production.  When first introduced to Europe, chocolate was produced in colonialized islands and intended as a drink for the elite, while also serving a purpose in the medical world.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, chocolate underwent a transitional period where industrialization was introduced in the form of mass production and advertising, thus making chocolate accessible to all classes.  This period was followed by a rapid expansion of the chocolate industry where chocolate was consumed in solid form and constant advancements were made to appeal to the variety of tastes craved by consumers.  Finally, today, we still enjoy a variety of mass produced chocolate candies, but now we strive for a bar crafted with sustainability, purity, and fairness in mind.



Picture and Video Source:

Fry’s Chocolate Advertisement:

Taza Chocolate Video:


Made in PowerPoint with dates extracted from C-Spot’s Concise History of Chocolate

Works Cited:

“A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE.” The C-spot. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

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

Hudson, 2013. Print.

Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York:    Routledge, 2013. Print.

Green, Dr. Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 4: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Aframer 199x. CGIS,   Cambridge, MA. 22 Feb. 2017. Lecture.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s