The History of Yum
How chocolate became America’s favorite candy treat
It all started with a smell—sweet and delicious.
The year was 1893, and Pennsylvania candy maker Milton Hershey was in Chicago, at the Columbian Exposition, a fair featuring new and amazing inventions from around the world. The moment Hershey entered the grand exhibition hall, he was struck by a delectable scent wafting through the air like a heavenly breeze. He tracked its source to a back corner of the hall, where a group of German men were making chocolate.
Utterly fascinated, Hershey watched as their machines transformed cacao beans into delicious chocolate candies. The machines roasted, ground, and melted the beans into a hot liquid, or “liquor,” which was poured into molds and cooled.
As the founder of the largest caramel factory in the country, Hershey was already a leading candy maker. But he would soon become convinced that the future of his business was in chocolate.
WHO DISCOVERED CHOCOLATE?
Historians aren’t sure exactly when humans discovered that the small, bitter seeds of the cacao plant could be turned into a tasty treat, but they do know that by 400 b.c., the Aztecs, who lived in what is now Mexico, were roasting them. By 400 a.d., the Maya of Central America were drinking a chocolate beverage—cocoa powder mixed with water and spices— and writing about its supposed health benefits. Over the centuries, chocolate drinks became popular in Europe and the American colonies.
A CANDY COUNTRY
When Milton Hershey was building his caramel company in the 1880s, solid chocolate wasn’t widely available in the U.S. Other types of candy were easier to find, but they were expensive, difficult to produce, and uneven in quality.
At the time, the most popular treats were “penny candies” sold by the piece from large jars. The recipes for many of these sweets came from European immigrants. Italians, for example, were known for hard candies like jawbreakers and fireballs, while Germans specialized in confections made from almond paste and spun sugar. America’s first candy makers toiled in tiny home kitchens, but by the 1890s, dozens of large companies like Hershey’s were working to satisfy America’s sweet tooth.
A NEW VENTURE
Hershey bought chocolate-making equipment from the floor of the Columbian Exposition and had it shipped back to his factory in Pennsylvania. He hired two chocolate makers, and soon his company was churning out chocolate candies in more than 100 shapes. His new venture was a success, yet Hershey wasn’t satisfied. Yes, his chocolates were tasty, but he wanted to make a chocolate that was lighter and creamier than anything Americans had ever tasted. The secret, he knew, was to add milk. Swiss chocolatiers had been making milk chocolate for years, but their recipes were closely guarded secrets. Hershey would have to figure out how to make it himself.
This was easier said than done. Milk, which is 90 percent water, and cocoa butter, which is mostly oil, separate quickly when mixed. For months, Hershey’s team worked 16-hour days, trying to develop a recipe that worked. Time after time, their experiments ended in oily messes. At last, though, they succeeded. Hershey believed so strongly in his new recipe that in 1900, he sold his caramel business so he could focus completely on chocolate. He bought 1,200 acres of farmland in Pennsylvania and built the world’s biggest chocolate factory. He also bought a town, which he named Hershey, for his workers and their families. By 1915, his chocolate “nickel bars” were the numberone candy in the nation.
Visitors flocked to Hershey, admiring its tidy streets and impressive factory. But perhaps the town’s most special feature was the chocolaty breeze that filled the air— the same heavenly smell that had captivated Milton Hershey decades before.