A Salute to Chocolate

Endurance to Diplomacy: Highlights of Chocolate in the Military

Chocolate is enjoyed worldwide by both children and adults and its popularity continues to grow. A recent report by Technavio valued the global chocolate market at $105.56 billion with an estimated value of 137.12 billion in 2021.[1] With these earnings, chocolate is truly the “food of the [shareholder] gods.”

Setting market success aside, chocolate is a unique fruit that contains theobromine, caffeine, and cocoa butter (fat), which can provide a needed energy boost, stave off hunger, and it is less likely to spoil on long journeys. These qualities make chocolate practical for many uses. One use probably not at the forefront of everyone’s mind, is military use, which has its roots in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

Map of Mesoamerica highlighting Mayan and Aztec empires
Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica (partial view). Highlighting Mayan influence and Aztec empire. (1994 Encyclopedia Britannica)
Statuette of Mayan with cacao pods on uniform
Cacao pods dangle from this Mayan warrior or Mayan athlete? Academic debate continues on this Mayan’s identity. Either way, he would benefit from cacao’s energy boosting and fortifying properties. (Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, Class Lecture 2)

The people of Mesoamerica may not have known the scientific reasons why their chocolate, or cacao, gave them energy or satisfied their hunger, but they were certainly aware of these benefits. Chocolate was a common ration for both Mayan and Aztec warriors. Although the Aztecs limited their chocolate consumption to the elite, their soldiers were allowed to partake. Ground cacao could be made into small wafers for easier travel and remote preparation.[2] Chocolate use, among Mayans, was more democratized and consumed along many classes for rituals, medicinal, and social occasions. Mayan soldiers too carried chocolate into battle.[3] Flexible and fortifying, chocolate provided a handy fix to fight hunger, or an opponent, for soldiers in Mesoamerica as for those in North America.

In 1757, 1,200 French and Indian forces were preparing for battle from Fort Carillon (then Fort Ticonderoga) in New York state. The officers issued an additional “two pounds of chocolate,” to energize the troops.[4] Twenty years later at that very fort, chocolate continued to fortify. During the American Revolution, young Captain Moses Greenleaf noted in his diary that he had hot chocolate when he first arrived at Fort Ticonderoga in the spring of 1777.[5] That summer, when he and his small army were ordered to evacuation the fort, he ate chocolate dinner and breakfast to strengthen him on “as fatigueing [sic] aa March as ever known.”[6] In additional to fortifying soldiers, chocolate’s popularity was also due to its perceived health benefits.

General Grant sits atop of horse in front of Union Army camp
Composite showing General Ulysses S. Grant at City Point during Civil War. Close quarters like these, for long periods of time, could create unsanitary conditions. (Image Library of Congress)

During the Civil War unsanitary field conditions and malnutrition claimed more lives than battle. Concerned with this growing public health crisis, The United States Sanitary Commission (USSC), purchased more than $20,000 pounds of chocolate during the Civil War from the Baker Chocolate Company. The USSC believed chocolate had nutritional and healing properties and served it to wounded soldiers to improve their health. [8] In 1864, Dr. E. Donnelly, a field surgeon wrote the Baker Company with this endorsement “a chocolate should be made to keep in a powdered condition, not too sweet, and free from all husks or other irritating substances. Chocolate … would be much more nutritious than coffee, not so irritating to the bowels.” [9] The Baker Company would later show their patriotism through chocolate.

During World War I, the Baker Company would stamp chocolate with the initials “W.T.W” (Win The War).[10] A warm sentiment that would reach Allied soldiers around the world, forming strong bonds with them. This is just one example of chocolate diplomacy.

Berlin Airlift, Lt. Halverson, Chocolate Flyer
Miniature parachutes can be seen dropping from Halvorsen’s C-54 as he brings the plane in for a landing at Tempelhof. (Image Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum)

Another example of chocolate diplomacy against a backdrop of hardship and despair comes in post World War II Germany. Berlin was split between the U.S. and its Allies (West Germany) and the Soviets (East Germany). In 1948 the Soviet Union sought to control all of Berlin and closed it off in hopes of starving out West Berliners. For over a year, Allied forces provided daily airdrops of provisions to West Berliners. One the most popular pilots was Lieutenant Gail S. Halvorsen, better known as the “the Chocolate Flyer.” Inspired by meeting the children of Berlin and their shy demeanor, Halvorsen wrapped candy bars and gum into little packages, then dropped them to the awaiting children. As Halvorsen explains “Day by day the crowd of kids waiting for the drop got bigger, and day by day my supply of handkerchiefs, old shirts, GI sheets, and old shorts, all of which I use for parachutes, gets smaller.”[11] The chocolate drops would be repeated many times after Halverson left Germany. The Operation was covered by the International press displaying Allied forces in a positive light on the world stage.

On the heels of World War II and at the start of the Cold War, chocolate was able to perform yet another service – publicity.  For centuries, chocolate has been serving the military on many levels. From fortification to diplomacy; energy to encouragement; now publicity and propaganda, chocolate continues to serve.

Works Cited

[1] Business Wire. Technavio. Top 6 Vendors in the Global Chocolate Market from 2017 to 2021: Technavio. June 28, 2017. Web. March 4, 2018. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170628005998/en/Top-6-Vendors-Global-Chocolate-Market-2017

[2] Coe, Sophie D.. The True History of Chocolate (Kindle Locations 1372-1373). Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition.

[3] Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerican and the “food of the gods”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. Jan. 31, 2018. Class Lecture 2.

[4] Grivetti, Louis E.; Shapiro, Howard-Yana. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage (Kindle Locations 15908-15911). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

[5] Ibid. (Kindle Location 15887).

[6] Ibid. (Kindle Location 16244).

[7] Ibid. (Kindle Locations 12681-12682).

[8] Ibid. (Kindle Location 14089).

[9] Ibid. (Kindle Locations 14093-14094).

[10] Ibid. (Kindle Location 14212).

[11] Giangreco, D.M. and Griffin, Robert E. The Berlin Crisis of 1948, its Origins and Aftermath. Presidio Press. New York. Excerpts Published by Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum. Web. March 8, 2018. https://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/BERLIN_A/CHOCOLAT.HTM

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