Chocolate and the Rise of Two Noble Factory Towns

In the late 19th to early 20th century, chocolate consumption increased greatly with massive innovations that improved quality and lowered prices. Two chocolate manufactures who are well-known today – Cadbury and Hershey – dominated the market through the creation of model factory towns, portraying their owners, George Cadbury and Milton Hershey, as altruistic, noble businessmen and their towns as utopian-like communities. Each offered its employees fair compensation, good quality homes and facilities and health provisions unheard of in prior factory settings of the era.  Both chocolate manufacturers were unimpressed with the working and living conditions for the laboring class as a result of the Industrial Revolution. For the Cadbury’s, it was their religious Quaker background that led to their altruistic business practices. They had a long-term interest in creating a welfare-state for the “amelioration of the conditions of the working class and laboring populations” (Cadbury 159). For Milton Hershey, progressive idealism, a political idea which gained support in the U.S. as a result of corporate greed and worker exploitation following the Industrial Revolution, guided his altruistic business approach in the early 20th century (D’Antonio 115).


Cadbury was one of three English Quaker families that dominated British manufacturing of chocolate during this time. As Quakers, the Cadbury’s believed that alcohol contributed to poverty and illness and were drawn to chocolate as a healthy and productive alternative (D’Antonio 67). And, at a time when factories were run in crowded cities and workers were cramped in poor living conditions and being exploited by their employers, the Cadbury brothers were looking for some higher moral ground in which to run their company. Their Quaker background and idealistic views led them to buy land in the countryside of Birmingham where they began their factory model village, Bournville, which included respectable housing, parks and school for their employees to experience. This new factory was unlike anything in the city, full of light, space and picturesque views of the countryside (Cadbury, 92). In order to improve employee’s lives George Cadbury established a 48-hour work week, offered superior amenities and encouraged education. Stemming from his Quaker background, he also introduced “rules of health” and prohibited the sale of alcohol in his village.  Even today, there are no pubs in Bournville. The Cadbury’s imposed their Quaker beliefs on every aspect of their worker’s lives in a paternalistic manner. Over the next few decades, Cadbury’s model village had grown in size and George Cadbury had aspirations that the community he created would impact living standards across England (Cadbury 133-134). By 1900, they “employed 3,310 workers, the women outnumbering the men about two to one, in a widely admired factory setting” (Satre 14-16).  By this time, Bournville was a successful model village and one that led George Cadbury to create the “Bournville Trust”. The aim of the trust was to improve the life for working class population by offering housing to non-employees, greatly expanding the number of people who would move out of the cities and into more comfortable living conditions (Cadbury 158-159).

On the other side of the Atlantic, Milton Hershey, took a similar approach to the Cadbury’s in the design of a factory model town and treatment of his employees, but on a much larger scale. In the late 19th century, the U.S. had experienced a wave of immigration and massive innovation which led to an “integrated industrial nation and the world’s largest marketplace” (D’Antonio, 60). In the midst of this, the wealth of corporations at the expense of their workers was receiving a lot of “political criticism, muckraking journalism and public concern” (D’Antonio, 113).  Milton Hershey wanted to be known for more than just creating a great profitable corporation. He wanted to be known as contributing to the greater good of society. With a progressive idealistic approach he sought to create a brand and “a perfect American town in a bucolic natural setting, where healthy, right living, and well-paid workers lived in safe, happy homes” (D’Antonio, 115). Milton Hershey’s chocolate factory grew to include a department store, a bank, a swimming pool, “men’s and women’s clubs, five churches, the free library, the volunteer fire department, two schools, Hershey Park with its fine gardens, zoo, and rollercoaster, the Hershey hotel, and a golf course” (Coe, 253).  There were rules and restrictions for residents which were intended to “foster the development of a quiet, orderly, well-built town where real estate would grow in value” (D’Antonio 117).  Within his town, Hershey had created a strong local economy where he paid workers adequate salaries that they would then spend in town, creating a cycle by which his company was able quickly generate revenue allowing expansion and enormous success. Today, tourists continue to flock to both the Cadbury and Hershey ‘theme parks’ where they can get a glimpse of what these factory towns were like in their beginning.

Hershey image

Cadbury, Deborah. Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers. Public Affairs, New York, NY, 2010.

Coe, Sophia D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate, 2nd Edition. Thames and Hudson, ltd, London 2007.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire and Utopian Dreams. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 2006.

Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business. Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio 2005.




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