Tag Archives: assembly line

Hungry, Hungry Hershey: How Industrialization Led to the Widespread Consumption of Chocolate

Imagining a childhood without the sweet taste of a Hershey’s bar proves unfathomable: Chocolate lines the shelves of every convenience store while entire holidays have become synonymous with the consumption of chocolate products.  In other words, chocolate is everywhere and loved by everyone.  However, chocolate did not always represent a cherished staple found in every household.  From the advent of chocolate beverages in Mesoamerica to the sophisticated chocolate houses of seventeenth-century Europe, chocolate constituted an experience only afforded by the very rich, powerful, and influential.  As much a status symbol as a food to be enjoyed, chocolate remained a bastion of society’s elite until the inception of cost-reducing machinery of the Industrial Revolution.  During the Industrial Revolution, breakthroughs in the manufacture of chocolate transformed cocoa from a beverage consumed exclusively by the upper class to a mass-produced commodity of every socioeconomic status.

To fully appreciate chocolate’s rise to widespread popularity, its exclusive origins amongst society’s elite cannot be overlooked.  As described by anthropologists Sophie and Michael Coe, “for at least 28 centuries, chocolate had been a drink of the elite and the very rich” (Coe 232).  Indeed, the Maya – who mostly consumed chocolate in its liquid form – served cocoa during feasts for the political and economic elite as a display of power and wealth.  Viewed as a food of the gods, the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs regarded chocolate, and particularly chocolate foam, as a status symbol amongst wealthy merchants and nobility (Leissle 30–31).  Moreover, once trade introduced cocoa to European society, chocolate remained a staple among the elite as a “validation of social position” due to its high production costs and laborious manufacturing process (Mintz 90).  Spanish royalty craved chocolate, even crafting ornate dishware such as the mancerina solely for the consumption of liquid chocolate (Coe 137).  By the late seventeenth century, chocolate houses became well-established all throughout European cities, serving aristocrats, upper class individuals, and eventually, those seeking to discuss society’s most contentious political issues (Coe 210).  Thus, chocolate became cemented amongst Europe’s elite as the only social class able to afford the new commodity.

Scallop-shaped Mancerina dish from the Royal Factory of Alcora: Notice the collar-like ring in the center, designed to house a small cup, preventing spillage onto the expensive clothing of wealthy chocoholics.

 Van Houten’s invention of the hydraulic press in 1828 revolutionized the manufacturing process of chocolate, driving consumption across socioeconomic levels.  Prior to Houten’s hydraulic press, manufacturers manually boiled and skimmed cacao butter from chocolate in a time-consuming and expensive process.  In response, Houten invented a powerful hydraulic press that pulverized cacao butter out of chocolate, leaving a solid cake of grindable cocoa powder.  This much more efficient process, known as defatting, reduced production costs and made the solid consumption of chocolate easier in cakes, ice creams, and biscuits (Coe 242).  Additionally, Houten introduced the process of “Dutching,” which utilized alkaline salts to improve cocoa powder’s miscibility in water.  Dutching also made the powder darker in color, leading many consumers to believe it possessed a stronger chocolate flavor (Leissle 55).  This defatting and alkalizing method simplified cocoa production and led to the “large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses, in both powdered and solid form” (Coe 242).  Overall, Houten’s innovative production reduced manufacturing costs, which in turn allowed more widespread consumption of chocolate outside the upper class.

The firm of J.S. Fry & Sons’ breakthrough discovery in 1847 introduced the first solid chocolate fully intended for eating, rather than drinking.  Following Van Houten’s invention of the hydraulic press, much more cacao butter could be separated from cocoa than ever before.  Francis Fry and Joseph Storrs Fry capitalized on this increased production of cacao butter in their invention of the Chocolat Délicieux à Manger, or more commonly, the “chocolate bar.”  To create chocolate bars, the Fry firm invented a way to mix cocoa powder and sugar with cacao butter from Houten’s defatting process.  By mixing cocoa powder with cacao butter as opposed to warm water, Fry could produce a thinner paste capable of being molded into chocolate bars (Coe 243).  While a short-term high demand for cacao butter concentrated solid chocolate bar consumption amongst the wealthy, the price of cocoa powder plummeted, placing chocolate well “within the reach of the masses” (Coe 242).  Nonetheless, Houten’s hydraulic press and  Fry’s mixing techniques allowed for the mass-production of chocolate, causing a substantial reduction in price that dramatically increased chocolate consumption (Alberts and Cidell 123).  Consequently, chocolate no longer constituted a bastion of European elites to symbolize their wealth, but rather, progressed towards becoming a household staple. 

Revelations in Switzerland revamped chocolate from a bitter and gritty product into a smooth and varied decadence.  Although the Englishman Nicholas Sanders first combined milk with chocolate in 1727, his product did not constitute “milk chocolate” per se, but rather, a beverage mixing chocolate liquor with hot milk (Coe 249).  The chocolate industry could not produce true milk chocolate as they lacked a design that prevented dairy from spoiling (Alberts and Cidell 124).  In 1867, however, Swiss chemist Henri Nestlé discovered how to create milk powder via evaporation.  In collaboration with the Swiss chocolate manufacturer Daniel Peter, the two men combined Nestlé’s powder with cacao butter to produce the first true milk chocolate bar.  Perhaps, more importantly, Rudolph Lindt significantly improved the quality of chocolate with his invention of “conching” in 1879 (Alberts and Cidell 124).  A traditional conche used heavy granite rollers to grind cocoa and sugar mixtures into small particles that produced smoother chocolate with intensified flavor.  As a result, the conching process induced a boom in worldwide chocolate popularity and soon became a standard procedure in the industry (Coe 250–51).  Therefore, Swiss inventions of the late nineteenth-century heightened chocolate popularity (and consumption) through the emergence of milk chocolate and a final product with smoother texture.

Grinding & Conching in Action: Heated by steam or water, large granite wheels revolve on a stone bed to work cocoa into a decadent semi-liquid chocolate, admiringly referred to as “fondant” by Rudolph Lindt.

Industrial Revolution developments in chocolate production culminated in the application of the assembly line.  Perhaps, Milton S. Hershey’s chocolate empire represents the most sophisticated implementation of the chocolate assembly line.  Described as “the Henry Ford of Chocolate Makers,” Milton Hershey established a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania calibrated for mass-production (Coe 253).  Without the hydraulic press, conche, powdered milk, and other mechanistic breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution, Hershey would not have been able to adopt machinery for the widespread production of standardized chocolate recipes.  The efficiency of the assembly line – made possible by the Industrial Revolution – dramatically increased production of chocolate, helping offset manufacturing costs and boost consumption across socioeconomic levels.  For instance, by the late 1920s, Hershey’s factory produced about 50,000 pounds of cocoa every day (Coe 256).  As such, the adoption of a mechanized assembly line increased efficiency and production while creating chocolates of identical taste, texture, and quality for all of society.

Hershey Factory Wrapping Department, 1936: Women sit alongside the assembly line’s conveyer belt, hastily wrapping Hershey Kisses and verifying the weight of two-pound boxes.

Chocolate, as it is known today, would have never been possible without the manufacturing breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution.  Lindt’s conche introduced the smooth texture of chocolate loved throughout the world while Houten’s alkalization process paved the way for Oreo to become “milk’s favorite cookie.”  More importantly, Houten’s hydraulic press, Fry’s mixing techniques, and Hershey’s assembly line have allowed chocolate to become adored by all of society regardless of socioeconomic status.  Thanks to these major breakthroughs, chocolate has transcended social disparities, making the world just a tad sweeter.  

Works Cited

Alberts, Heike C., and Julie Cidell. Chocolate Consumption, Manufacturing, and Quality in Europe and North America. Oxford University Press. www-oxfordscholarship-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu, https://www-oxfordscholarship-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198726449.001.0001/acprof-9780198726449-chapter-6. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.

Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

ExplorePAHistory.Com – Image. http://explorepahistory.com/displayimage.php?imgId=1-2-127F. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.

Grinding, ConchingYouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=72&v=Sg7d7dqZ01U&feature=emb_title. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity, 2018.

“Mancerina Dish from the Royal Factory of Alcora – Unknown.” Google Arts & Culture, https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/mancerina-dish-from-the-royal-factory-of-alcora-unknown/lwF_ttm8ODc2Sg. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.

Mintz, Sidney W. (Sidney Wilfred). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.

The Industrial Revolution: The Transformation of Chocolate from a Rare Delight to a Global Commodity

Industrialization greatly improved the quantity, quality, and variety of food of the working urban populations of the Western World. This development was due to reasons which were two-fold: first, historical developments such as colonialism and overseas trade were structures which inspired this process, and second, specific technologies such as preserving, mechanization, retailing, transport, and the growth of the commercial catering business allowed for the distribution and access of chocolate to flourish. Technologies which were developed from the Industrial Revolution greatly changed the worldwide consumption of chocolate, greatly increasing the quantity and ease of its production and distribution and subsequently increasing the ease and diversity of consumers’ access to chocolate products.

The Industrial Revolution began in England in the early 19th century, and stemmed from factors such as a smaller population and thus a need for a more efficient workforce. Prior to industrialization, the majority of people in Europe subsisted on peasant farming and leasing land from the elite (Dimitri et al. 2). In the latter half of the second millennium A.D., voyages of discovery around the globe sparked colonialism in foreign lands soon thereafter. There were various philosophies in justification of colonialism; one was that of social evolutionism and intervention philosophies, or the idea that natives were incapable of governing themselves and in need of outside intervention. According to research published by M. Shahid Alam of Northeastern University, industrialization of countries across the world was unequal; some countries underwent industrialization centuries prior to others (Alam 5). The reason for this was partially due to the fact that some countries colonized other countries for their own imperial or industrial benefit, so the colonized countries themselves could not go undergo industrialization at that time. Great Britain, Spain (and subsequently Portugal), and France were a few imperial superpowers which underwent industrialization first and each dominated many colonies.

Image Source: Dimitri C, Effland A, Conklin N. “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy.” USDA ERS. 2006.

Because of the far-reaching, global geography of these mother countries’ colonies, the colonial economy depended on international trade. For example, the British empire depended on the American colonies’ production of goods, as did the colonies on the goods of the British Empire. Merchants sent out ships to trade with North America and the West Indies; in 1686 alone, over 1 million euros of goods were shipped to London (“Trade and Commerce”). While wool textiles from England’s manufacturers that spurred from the Industrial Revolution were shipped to the Americas, the colonies shipped goods such as sugar, tobacco, and other tropical groceries from its plantations back across the pond. Due to Europe’s incredibly high demand for some of these American goods, the slave trade developed to meet Industrialization’s hefty needs for cheap labor (“Trade and Commerce”).

Image Source: “Colonial Trade Routes and Goods.” National Geographic Society, National Geographic, http://www.nationalgeographic.org/photo/colonial-trade/.

A few hundred years later, significant agricultural technologies spurred from industrialization. By the early 1900s, most American farms were diversified, meaning that various animals and crops were produced on the same cropland in complementary ways. However, specialization was a method which developed in farms at around this same time, used to increase efficiency by narrowing the range of tasks and roles involved in production. This way, specialized farmers could focus all their knowledge, skills, and equipment on one or two enterprises. Furthermore, mechanization allowed for the tremendous gains in efficiency with getting rid of the need for human labor with routine jobs such as sowing seeds, harvesting crops, milking cows, and feeding and slaughtering animals. Within the 20th century only, the percentage of the U.S. workforce involved in agriculture declined from 41 percent to 2 percent (Dimitri et al. 2). This greatly increased the efficiency of the production of ingredients which go into chocolate such as milk, cacao, sugar, salt, and vanilla from their respective farms.

In addition to farming technologies such as specialization, methods such as preserving, mechanization, retailing (and wholesaling), transport, and the growth of the commercial catering business improved the quality of the chocolate product itself and lessened the amount of time many large chocolate companies produced these chocolates drastically (Goody 74).

The mechanism of preserving was spearheaded by Nicolas Appert, who developed a process called canning (“bottling” in English) in response to conditions in France during the Napoleonic Wars, when the preservation of meat was important for feeding on-the-road soldiers (Goody 75). Glass containers were also developed around the same time to preserve wine and medicine. Methods such as artificial freezing as well as salt — which became such a popular form of preservation that a “salt tax” was eventually implemented — also developed to preserve foods. Pickling inside vinegar, as well as sugar, which was used to preserve fruits and jams, were also methods which advanced. This, in turn, also caused the imports of sugar to rapidly increase during the 18th century (Goody 75). With preservation mechanisms highly developed compared to before, chocolate products could finally be distributed from manufacturers and remain on shelves for quite some time — it did not necessarily need to be fresh to be sold and readily available to consumers.

Additionally, the process of mechanization was the manufacture of many processed and packaged foods, and this process was furthered by Ford’s assembly line and interchangeable parts. Through these technologies, packaged foods and products could be produced much more quickly and efficiently at greater quantities. This greatly increased the production efficiency and quantity with which packaged chocolate could be distributed, allowing for the proliferation of the some of the biggest mass-brands in chocolate production, such as Hershey’s and Nestle (Goody 81).

Video Source: “HOW IT’S MADE: Old Hershey’s Chocolate.” YouTube, 1976, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ophXa_LvUKk.

Furthermore, the process of retailing was marked by the shift from open market to closed shop; this process began as early as Elizabethan times. Back in the Elizabethan era, great efforts were made to ensure that there were no middle men in terms of sales and that there was no resale at higher prices. Eventually, however, grocers overtook the import of foreign goods. Just as imported goods became cheaper with the new developments in transport, so too did manufactured goods and items packaged before sale came to dominate the market (Goody 82-3). This allowed many various chocolate products from manufacturers all across the world to hit the shelves of grocers, readily available to consumers of any city in the United States. These products were generally branded goods, “sold” before sale by national advertising. Advertising itself, additionally, led to the homogenization of chocolate consumption, allowing similar brands of chocolate products to be distributed across the U.S. This even led to the eventual homogenization of American taste preferences for chocolate; because the Hershey’s chocolate bar was so heavily distributed and popularized, eventually, Americans were unaccustomed to anything that did not have Hershey’s uniquely sweet and salty taste (“Here There Will Be…” 108).

The final large component of industrialization which greatly increased chocolate production and distribution was the revolution of transportation. Rail transport provided the masses with cheap and wholesome food; in fact, there were certain periods of time during the Industrial Revolution in which U.S. railways were transporting goods more than people (Goody 82). Last but not least, the growth of the commercial catering business led to the decline of the domestic servant. This decline of the domestic servant also allowed English families to explore quick, sweet recipes incorporating chocolate such as brownies, cookies, and cakes.

Bigger-picture progressions in history such as colonization and international trade connected the world economy and allowed for technologies such as preserving, mechanization, retailing, and new transport to grow and flourish. These methods, in turn, caused global companies such as Hershey’s and Nestle to revolutionize the production and distribution of chocolate into a massive, global business. What was once enjoyed by the few and wealthy was now easily accessible by the masses, homogenizing the tastes of Americans to a few specific chocolate brands. None of this impact on chocolate products’ consumers and producers alike would have been possible without the historical and technological developments of the Industrial Revolution.


Works Cited

Alam, M. Shahid. “Colonialism and Industrialization: Empirical Results.” Review of Radical Political Economics, 1998, pp. 217–240., doi:10.2139/ssrn.2031131.

“Colonial Trade Routes and Goods.” National Geographic Society, National Geographic, http://www.nationalgeographic.org/photo/colonial-trade/.

Dimitri C, Effland A, Conklin N. “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy.” USDA ERS. 2006.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” Food and Culture: a Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, Routledge, 2013, pp. 72–88.

“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.

“HOW IT’S MADE: Old Hershey’s Chocolate.” YouTube, 1976, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ophXa_LvUKk.

JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Industrialization of Agriculture.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, 5 Aug. 2016, foodsystemprimer.org/food-production/industrialization-of-agriculture/index.html.“To the Milky Way and Beyond; Breaking the Mold.” The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, by Brenner Joël Glenn., Broadway Books, 2000, pp. 49–194.

“Trade and Commerce.” Understanding Slavery Initiative, Understanding Slavery, 2011, http://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php-option=com_content&view=article&id=307_trade-and-commerce&catid=125_themes&Itemid=152.html.