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Churning into the “Chocolate Age:” How Industrial Age Technologies Created a New Chocolate Era

You may be surprised to find out that the chocolate that we know today is a relatively new, tasty discovery- one that came about from the Industrial Age.

When the Industrial Revolution took place, the world revolutionized with it, and industries of all kinds were forever altered. The chocolate industry, still in the Mayan age, sprouted into a new field and its effects can still be traced today. The technology in the Industrial Revolution provided the tools to advance the field of chocolate, which allowed for mass consumption and commercialization, giving way to the “Chocolate Age.”

Chocolate’s “God-Like” Beginnings

Cacao was considered the “food of the gods,” and was treated as such: before the Industrial Age, chocolate was made the traditional way that the Mayans made it with a long, drawn-out process of cracking shells and traditional grinding to create a bitter chocolate drink (unlike the chocolate of today) (Szogyi, 1997).


Modern Mayan woman demonstrating how her ancestors

would grind cacao (Smithsonian)

This treat was considered to be a drink that was both a commodity and spiritual experience; although it was available to the masses, the wealthy certainly had more access to the treat because they could afford it. Cacao was taken as such a serious product that the Mayans used its seeds as currency; further, it was used to promote fertility and life, and cacao pods are found all over elite and ancient artifacts, temples, and palaces. Clearly, these uses and techniques demonstrate how luxurious chocolate was to them; these processes stayed this way even during the era of the Aztec empire and many centuries later (Horn, 2016 & Szogyi).

The Industrial Difference

This process of chocolate was so revered that it essentially did not change until the Industrial Age with a ground-breaking invention for grinding that used the newly-innovated steam and hydraulic process; in 1778, Doret, a Frenchman, invented a hydraulic machine that grinds cocoa beans into a paste (Beckett, Horn). Before then, the process of grinding was long and tedious and this machine allowed the process to become easier to create for the masses. Soon after, more inventions came along for grinding that further made consumption more popular. For instance, Dubuisson invented a steam chocolate grinder in France because it was even cheaper to replicate than Doret’s product, which allowed for an even higher level of mass consumption of chocolate. The Industrial Age created the environment to allow for this change – without steam and hydraulics, and the friendly and booming business atmosphere for support, Doret and Dubuisson would certainly not have been able to create these inventions. Where would be chocolate be today? One could reasonably predict that we could have eventually have had these technologies, but it is safe to assume that it would have taken the chocolate industry much longer to reach its glory.

The steam engine and hydraulic system are considered staples of this Industrial Age with new technologies across the boards for trains, factories, and buildings, but we can also appreciate how these technologies allowed for the advancement of chocolate technology. The value of chocolate significantly decreased because it was accessible to everyone; from here on, it was no longer an “elite” product or just a “food of the gods,” but, rather, a food for everyone. Thus, the Industrial Age that changed the world on so many fronts quickly churned into the “Chocolate Age” as well.

The idea of the mass consumption of chocolate from the Industrial Age can be traced along the later part of the history of chocolate. Quickly after the revelation with the cocoa beans came a new way to make chocolate an even more accessible product with commercialization – via “dutching” (Squiciarinni & Swinnen, 2016). In 1828, Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, invented a method to press cocoa by separating the cocoa butter by pressing it with alkali, making the matter soften up enough to produce cocoa powder, which was light and fluffy; unlike the current chocolate of that time, dutching made chocolate highly digestible, which would attract new consumers and open up a whole new market for chocolate – just like these technologies helped do so in other industries such as the construction field (i.e. making materials more affordable and attractive for building).

Van Houten’s cocoa press (World Standards)



Additionally, cocoa powder was the secret ingredient needed for the chocolate industry and companies to seamlessly make solid chocolate bars and coat them as well as bring in new flavors such as white chocolate. From there, a second wave of the Chocolate Age had been set and was about to take place.


A Second Wave of the Age – Mass Commercialization and the Chocolate Bar

With the mass consumption of chocolate from these new Industrial technologies came mass commercialization. Quite simply, we can see that chocolate companies would not be what they are today without this commercial influence; specifically, the dutching process sparked a spread of commercialization across Europe, which allowed for the worldwide chocolate industry we have come to know and love. For example, Cadbury, one of the largest chocolate companies today, and Joseph Fry (founder of what is known as Mondolez International today) bought the dutching press; these two companies are credited to be the first companies to create and sell the chocolate bar. They also made the chocolate bar a highly accessible treat with aggressive advertising; this marketing scheme raked in millions of dollars for these companies (Beckett, Horn). It was the catalyst behind the beginning of giant factories built to keep up with this demand.

Thus, the chocolate bar became (and still is) a symbol for a quick, delicious treat for everyone and anyone.


Fry’s chocolate bar packaging (Foods of England)

Moreover, the dutching system then inspired the chocolate exportation business that brought chocolate on to an international stage – a few decades after the start of the chocolate bar, the Van Houten presses became powered by steam engines, and, just like with the Dubuisson’s steam engine, came with another Chocolate Revolution. The mass consumption and commercialization of chocolate began in European countries such as Germany and France, which eventually led its way to the United States (Beckett, Szogyi). These countries then started their own chocolate giants such as Hershey’s and Nestlé, which embody the same mass consumption and commercialization ideals that have advanced the history of chocolate along and allowed it to further churn.

Without the Industrial age, chocolate would just not be the same. It is literally unrecognizable from its Olmec and Mayan roots. From the Industrial Age, the Chocolate Age churned on and on – all starting with the advancements in steam and hydraulics.



Beckett, S.T, et al. Industrial Chocolate – Manufacture and Use. Wiley Publishers: Hoboken.

Horn, Jeff. The Industrial Revolution: History, Documents, and Key Questions. (2016). ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara.

Squicciarini, Mara P & Swinnen, Johan. (2016). The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/power-chocolate-reveals-true-roots-celebrated-food

Szogyi, Alex. (1997). Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport.

The Foods of England. Retrieved from http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/chocolate.htm

World Standards. Retrieved from http://www.worldstandards.eu/chocolate%20-%20history.html





A water snake sheds its skin. State support of private enterprise across time has taken many forms. (Photo: Genius.com)

In the history of sugar, one faithful aspect has been omnipresent: the nurturing by the state of its domestic sugar industries. Various factors have insured that the degree of care has undergone a bewildering change over time. Some forms of state support such as military intervention were more prevalent in the ‘startup’ years, while other means, such as favorable tariffs follow, and in fact lead sugar across history. This lack of universal consistency in the vigor and application of state support reflect the varying needs of private commercial entities and factions across different periods, does not bequeath itself to an overly simple general pattern, but nonetheless reflects and speaks of a dizzying and powerful change over time.

The sugar colonies and the sugar planter have been described as “business ventures primarily” and “strictly a businessman” respectively[1][2]. From this we can ascertain that plantations nor the individual planter possessed any martial capacity other than the ability to discipline and subdue its own labor force through violence.[3] Plantations did not mount invasions and planters did not lead professional armies.

Jamaica, one of the “crown jewels”[4] of the British Empire was seized by a military expedition, which found the island easier takings than neighboring Hispaniola.[5] With its capture, the British state was able to offer “English sugar interests with as much Caribbean acreage as they wanted.”[6] State nurturing through military force of the sugar planters went beyond terra firma into the high seas. 127 years later, Jamaica was under threat by France and American colonists, who had just swiped six British sugar islands. The Royal Navy was dispatched and beat the French, “saving…the sugar islands”[7]

Islands firmly in hand, state support moved into another phase: providing labor. Sugar planters throughout history have been bewildered by the same issue – the need for labor. Begnaud states that “the central problem was, and is, the labor supply” and “the most acute problem of the planter may well have been securing the labor force needed in sugarcane cultivation.”[8][9] Before chattel slavery, the Crown was able to provide “thieves and whores rounded up” alongside “Scottish and Irish” POWs to the planters[10], who were then coerced to the Indies with indentured servitude contracts. With the Caribbean not exactly meeting the expectations of the “thieves and whores”, “the masters could persuade few laborers whose indentures had expired to stay on”[11] The final solution was the Royal African Company, which was granted the monopoly by the state to trade in slaves and “handled much of the English business between 1673 and 1711”[12] Third party runners who tried to sell outside of the monopoly were pursued by the Royal Navy. With two-thirds of all Black slaves shipped to the Americas “directly related to the production of sugar”[13] the state’s hand in ensuring the sugar plantations’ appetites were fulfilled appear to have been prominent and successful.

Among the presents of military force, poor White servants and Black slaves, another gift of the state to the planter was an insatiable market. To motor forward with industrialization, one needs a labor force. In England, this meant farmers, previously self-sufficient (aside from periods of famine) in food. The Enclosure Acts between the late 18th and early 19th centuries forced farmers to migrate from rural areas and into cities, where “they had to purchase their food”[14] With the steadily declining price of sugar, as slave labor worked fields in Caribbean secured by state military forces, this large, hungry urban population were able to enjoy “Sugar, cheaper and more plentiful than it had been.”[15]

Tariffs are one form of state support that, while varying in form across time, have been a consistent tool to carry favored groups. In the Mercantilist era, the British state set agreeable tariff rates for its West Indies planters, below that for foreign sugars, in return for locking them to the British economy, forcing them to only sell their sugar in Britain (perhaps 50% would be re-exported), but also to buy provisions from England. In exchange they enjoyed a “protected home market.”[16] Their American planter counterparts, a century later found themselves in the same dilemma. The difference was that American sugar was grown in America, and the need would be a protective tariff on foreign sucrose. “The one thing all sugar farmers agreed upon was the necessity for protection from cheap imported sugar, for their business methods were expensive,”[17] writes Begnaud of Louisiana sugar planters. Congress delivered and legislation in 1934 “saved…the domestic sugar industry.”[18] Hodson concludes that “like it or not, the U.S. sugar industry has long been a creature of government policy.”[19] Thus tariffs held back an avalanche of sugar from Hawaii, the West Indies and India from smothering the domestic U.S. sugar industry.

[1] Dunn 25

[2] Dunn 65

[3] http://revealinghistories.org.uk/africa-the-arrival-of-europeans-and-the-transatlantic-slave-trade/articles/life-on-plantations.html

[4] Alexander and Parker 1

[5] Dunn 152

[6] Dunn 21

[7] Abbott 172

[8] Begnaud 29

[9] Begnaud 33

[10] Dunn 69

[11] Dunn 72

[12] Dunn 229

[13] Kaplinsky 14

[14] Abbott 63

[15] Abbott 63

[16] Dunn 80

[17] Begnaud 42

[18] Burbin 83

19 Hodson 136


Abbott, Elizabeth. SUGAR: A BITTERSWEET HISTORY. London: Duckworth Publishers, 2009. Print.

Alexander, Robert J. and Eldon M. Parker. A HISTORY OF ORGANIZED LABOR IN THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WEST INDIES. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2004. Electronic.

Begnaud, Allen. “The Louisiana Sugar Cane Industry.” GREEN FIELDS: TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF LOUISIANA SUGAR. Lafayette: University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1980. Print.


Dunn, Richard. S.. SUGAR AND SLAVES: THE RISE OF THE PLANTER CLASS IN THE ENGLISH WEST INDIES, 1624-1713. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1972. Print

Hodson, Charles. “U.S. Sugar Policy Since the 1930s.” GREEN FIELDS: TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF LOUSIANA SUGAR. Lafayette: University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1980. Print.

Kaplinsky, Raphael. SUGAR PROCESSING: THE DEVELOPMENT OF A THIRD-WORLD TECHNOLOGY. Delhi: Oxford Universty Press, 1983. Print.

Myric, Herbert. SUGAR: A NEW AND PROFITABLE INDUSTRY IN THE UNITED STATES. New York: Orange Judd Company, 1897. Print.

Life on Plantations: http://revealinghistories.org.uk/africa-the-arrival-of-europeans-and-the-transatlantic-slave-trade/articles/life-on-plantations.html




The Expansion of Chocolate Through the Industrial Revolution

Up until the early 1700’s chocolate was a treat for the elite and the wealthy. It was not until the mid 1700’s in which the Industrial Revolution occurred did chocolate became a treat to be mass produced and open to other consumers. The Industrial Revolution was a time of transition from harsh hands on man labor to new manufacturing processes. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, the increasing use of steam power and the development of machine tools. In 1775 James Watt, a Scottish inventor, entered into a partnership with businessman Matthew Boulton, which sparked the successful commercialization of Watt’s steam engine and this developed a faster process of making chocolate (Scherer 167)


Watt’s Steam Engine

Now that there were machines to produce chocolate, the production of chocolate became easier and faster and this led to producers experimenting and developing new techniques and approaches that revolutionized the texture and text of chocolate. In 1828 a chemist named Coenraad Van Houten developed a hydraulic press to press the chocolate liquor. The machine produces a fat (cocoa butter) and a cake (cocoa powder). Houten also introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness. This pressed chocolate became known as today’s “Dutch Cocoa” and this cocoa was the fundamental element of the transformation of chocolate to a solid form. The discovery of the chocolate bar made it suitable for widespread consumption.


Chocolate Press

In 1847 by using this process an English producer named Joseph Fry created the first chocolate bar. By adding back melted cocoa butter he discovered that this helps mold chocolate creating the first chocolate bar. By purchasing a Watt’s steam engine to grind his cacao beans, Joseph Fry was able to spark the process in which chocolate became widely affordable producing mass amounts of chocolate bars for cheap (Coe and Coe 227). People could now access chocolate easier and now consume it as a food in its solid form instead of as a beverage as previously consumed. The discovery of the chocolate bar made it suitable for widespread consumption.

Another technique that revolutionized chocolate came when Henri Nestle discovered how to powder milk. From this discovery Nestle teamed up with Daniel Peter in 1875 to create the first ever milk chocolate bar. Milk chocolate was the first ever solid chocolate to have been made with milk or some form of milk. And In 1879, Randolphe Lynche invented the conche. The conche process acted as a polisher of the paticles and produced chocolate with superior aroma and melting characteristics compared to other processes used at that time (Coe and Coe 246).


The conche

The Industrial revolution with the adoption of the steam engine and hydraulic press lead to the chocolate industry expanding. Now that there were machines to produce chocolate, the production of chocolate became easier and faster. In today’s culture chocolate is no longer considered to be a delicacy but an ordinary snack to consume throughout the day. The mass consumption of chocolate today could not have occurred without the role the steam engine played on expansion of the chocolate industry.

Work Cited

Coe, Sophie D., Coe, Michael D., 2013. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, London.

Scherer, F.M., (1965). Invention and Innovation in the Watt-Boulton Steam-Engine Venture. Technology and Culture, Vol. 6, No. 2.

Cadbury, 2014b. The History of Chocolate. Mondelez International.

Cidell, Julie L. Constructing Quality: The multinational histories of chocolate.  Geoforum, Volume 37, Issue 6.  November 2006.

Chocolate and the Steam Engine

It is no secret that the Industrial Revolution allowed chocolate to become available to the masses. At the dawn of this period, basic technology used to create chocolate had barely changed from that used by the Aztecs, and even factories that produced chocolate did so through a labor-intensive process performed by hand in small quantities (Coe and Coe 226). As a result, its price was prohibitive and chocolate remained a drink only consumed by wealthy and aristocratic Europeans during the 17th and 18th century. Coe and Coe note that “1828 marks the beginning of the modern era in chocolate making and production,” crediting Coenraad Johannes Van Houten’s hydraulic press for allowing the widespread manufacture of affordable chocolate for the masses to be possible (234). This hydraulic press manufactured a cheap powdered cocoa by squeezing out excess cocoa butter and treating it with alkaline salts.

However, I would argue that the democratizing of chocolate actually began fifty years before, in 1775. In that year, James Watt, a Scottish inventor, entered into a partnership with businessman Matthew Boulton, which sparked the successful commercialization of Watt’s steam engine (Scherer 167). While one may not immediately associate steam engines and chocolate with each other, I believe it was indeed the steam engine that served as the catalyst for the spread of chocolate consumption, and its importance surely should not be overlooked. The steam engine was crucial in mechanizing the process of grinding cacao seeds to produce chocolate. Before the steam engine, cacao seeds were ground in mills driven by animal, wind, or water power, and before that they were ground by hand with stones. The power supplied by the steam engine enabled chocolate makers to streamline chocolate production in larger quantities. In 1789, Joseph Storrs Fry purchased a Watt’s steam engine to grind his cacao beans, thus sparking the process in which chocolate became widely affordable (Coe and Coe 227). Thus, it would be safe to say that the steam engine provided the platform in which Van Houten’s breakthrough was able to spark this “modern era” of chocolate proliferation.

A James Watt steam engine just like this one would’ve been used to grind cacao seeds in a timely and efficient manner.

Additionally, it is impossible to talk about the spread of chocolate to the masses without detailing the equally enormous increase in the intake of sugar during the same period, as the majority of these new solid chocolate snacks were in the form of desserts. Once again, the steam engine played a crucial role in the spread of sugar in a similar fashion. The first attempt at applying steam power to sugar production was made by John Stewart in 1768 in Jamaica, and soon after, steam replaced direct firing as the source of sugar heat processing (Richardson 88). By 1810, steam power was heavily present throughout the British and French Caribbean colonies, and the continually advancing steam-powered method of sugarcane milling made steady progress against the older methods throughout the region during the nineteenth century, particularly in the Great Antilles (Richardson 92). Not only did the steam engine remove the need for cattle-driven mills, but it could also crush canes endlessly with perfect reliability, regardless of wind conditions or terrain. This industrialization of sugar processing through steam power contributed to the plummeting in prices of sugar during the 1800’s, which in turn also contributed to the cheapening of chocolate.

Sugar cane mills were used to manufacture sugar for processes varying from squeezing juice out from the cane, boiling and filtering the juice, and further separation and purification techniques to process the final sugar crystal product.

From sugar mills to textile factories, steam engines found many uses in a variety of fields during the Industrial Revolution. The introduction of steam engines improved productivity and technology and they were eventually applied to transportation as well. Steam engines found their way into boats, railways, and road vehicles, driving transportation costs down and contributing to a chain reaction which in turn drove sugar, and therefore chocolate prices down. In 1825, George Stephenson created the first public railway for steam locomotives, which coincided with the other inventions occurring regarding the production process of chocolate and allowed this newfound mass-produced chocolate to be transported on a widespread level as well (Scherer 176).

The design of George Stephenson’s patent locomotive engine, built in 1829, was used in successive locomotive steam engines throughout the 1800’s.

The introduction of the steam engine provides an example of how changes brought by industrialization led to even more changes in other areas. The steam engine was a precursor to many other advanced technologies, including Henri Nestle’s production of powdered milk in 1867 and  Rudolphe Lindt’s “conching” process in 1879 (Coe and Coe 246). Thus, the steam engine served as the catalyst to making all the steps of the production of chocolate, from its initial grinding to its final transportation, easier and cheaper. Today, sales reach over $100 billion a year and  chocolate is considered a snack for the masses. When considering how chocolate achieved such an extensive reach, it is important to consider the integral role that the steam engine played in its expansion.

Coe, Sophie D., Coe, Michael D., 2013. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, London.

Richardson, Bonham (1992). The Caribbean in the Wider World, 1492-1992: A Regional Geography. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Scherer, F.M., (1965). Invention and Innovation in the Watt-Boulton Steam-Engine Venture. Technology and Culture, Vol. 6, No. 2.