Historian and Cadbury relative Deborah Cadbury chronicles the struggle for global chocolate supremacy, a battle which pitted unbridled capitalism against pious Quaker idealism.
It pits idealism against capitalism, religious piety against the forces of greed and cutthroat competition. Though, like great fiction, it defies belief, it’s the true story of our favorite guilty pleasure. (In fact, I could probably fish the remnants of a Snickers wrapper out of my jacket pocket nearly any time. I’m not proud, I’m just saying...)Skip to next paragraph
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For nearly a century and a half, the forces of Mars, Hershey, Lindt, Nestlé, and Cadbury battled it out for global chocolate supremacy. The slow evolution of the stone-hard, greasy, and nearly inedible “chocolate bar” of the 1850s into the sensuous, melt-in-your mouth confections of today would take saintly patience, great ingenuity, vast sums of money, and the kind of industrial espionage that would make 007 green with envy. The long, winding road to the perfection of cocoa drinks and milk chocolate and the opening of international markets was littered with many casualties – not only “lost” candy bars and shuttered factories, but to many in Britain, innocence itself.
The sweet center of Chocolate Wars is historian Deborah Cadbury’s captivating narration of the story of her relatives, Cadbury Bros. executives Richard and George Cadbury. Devout Quakers, the brothers’ legacy owes as much to their enlightened business practices and jaw-dropping generosity as it does to their much-loved chocolate treats. In fact, the three largest British chocolate firms were all helmed by Quakers, whose religious tenets defined the accumulation of personal wealth as a sin.
As they slowly built their chocolate business, the brothers Cadbury despaired of the pernicious deterioration of bucolic life in 19th century Britain, as dark clouds of soot blanketed swelling northern industrial cities like their beloved Birmingham, blocking the sun and choking their citizens. The author paints a portrait of a determined George Cadbury, recoiling from the creeping slums, chronic poverty, and rampant ill health rapidly sweeping the city and surrounding their factory. “Why should progress and the ‘triumph of machinery’ lead to a reduction in quality of life?” Cadbury wondered. “Machinery,” he declared, “creates wealth but destroys men.”
George and Richard Cadbury took action. “How could they raise men’s ideals and help them improve their lot?” Step 1: They started Britain’s first adult school, raising thousands of slum-dwellers into health and literacy. “How could they assist women and children break the cycle of poverty?” Step 2: They would move their factory from the grimy center of Birmingham to the countryside where the sky was robin’s egg blue and the air was fresh and clean. It would be a model factory for all the world to see, with “perfect friendliness among all.”
With their new Bournville factory, the Cadbury brothers “were determined to use their growing business in a way that was compatible with “enlarging the riches of human experience.” Its workers enjoyed the latest in labor-saving machinery, roomy, well-lit workspaces, organized recreation for employees and their families, and beautiful grounds in which to walk and take their lunch. To house the workers, 370 charming cottages were built on 500 acres of verdant land surrounding the factory.