15 November 2016

Quaker chocolate companies, workers' rights and quality housing

I recommend the book Bitter Chocolate: Investigating The Dark Side Of The World's Most Seductive Sweet by Carol Off. The Maya in Mexico were the first peoples to fall under chocolate's spell and the neighbouring Aztecs revered cacao beans were divine. Off said that when Cortes invaded Mexico, he found the elite of the Montezuma court and army drinking this miraculous liquid that nourished the men. Cortes took the cocoa back to Spain from where it spread in popularity across Europe.

But it wasn't a wonderful product for everyone. Carol Off made it clear that the misery and slavery of the cocoa producers in countries like Cote d’Ivoire, including thousands of children, was and is the result of centuries of injustice. She de­scrib­ed in Bitter Chocolate the horrific history of the production of cocoa and chocolate, the products that we love and take for granted.

Joseph Fry (1728-87) was an apothecary in Bristol and a leading Quaker in that city. He began selling cocoa from his shop in 1759, emphasising its health-giving propert­ies. And it soon became popular in the coffee houses in Bath. Fry purchased the business of the leading cocoa maker Walter Churchman in 1761 and soon Fry, Vaughan & Co had agents in 53 towns and a chocolate warehouse in London. Joseph’s son introduced the Watts steam engine in 1795, which made Fry the first chocolatier to use factory methods in their manufacturing.

In 1815 the Dutch entrepreneur Coenraad Johannes Van Houten (1801-87) opened a factory in Amsterdam with his father, and perfected the production of cocoa powder. The Van Houtens were imp­ortant because they introduced drinking cocoa powder on an industrial scale AND because they combined the powder with sugar and then remixed it with cocoa butter to create solid eating chocolate.

Very soon after the Dutch success, two other great firms of Brit­ish Quaker merchants began to get involved in the chocolate industry alongside the Fry family: the Cadbury and the Rowntree families. At this time chocolate was mainly used to make coc­oa, partially because cocoa was thought to have medicinal prop­ert­ies and partially because it was seen as a good, cheap alternative to alcohol. [The Religious Society of Friends/Quakers’ founder, George Fox, had promoted simple living and the prohibition of alcohol and frivolous diversions]. Clearly all non-conformists at the time of the growing temperance movement were concerned about levels of alcohol misuse in the population at large.

Fry's also obtained a patent for a machine to roast the cocoa beans so they could use 40% of the cocoa that was imported. Employees were paid relatively well - 10 shillings a week at a time when a farm labourer could expect to earn only 7. Their factories were not spacious and airy, but Fry's was committed to worker representation in workplace management.

Clean, relatively well paid workers in light filled packing rooms.
Uniforms were provided. 1913
All photos are to be credited to the Daily Mail, Sept 2012

John Cadbury (1801-80) had served an apprenticeship in the tea trade. When his father gave him a sum of money to set up his own business in 1824, he became a tea dealer and coffee roaster in Birm­ingham. At this shop he prepared cocoa based beverages, crushing the beans using a pestle and mortar. Cadbury saw the potential for cocoa powder and drawing on his experience of roasting coffee beans and preparing crushed cocoa beans, he decided to open a factory in 1831. The earliest extant price list dated 1842 shows 16 varieties of drinking chocolate and 11 cocoas. The product could be bought as pressed cakes, flakes and powder.

In 1847 Fry's introduced the chocolate bar to England. They melted cocoa butter, mixed it with cocoa powder and sugar and pressed the resulting paste into a mould. It was difficult to extract all the butter from the cocoa, so additives such as potato flour were used to stop the cocoa powder from sticking together.

However when brothers George and Richard Cadbury took over the family business in 1861, they began to innovate. They worked on an improved method of extracting the butter, so that they no longer needed additives. They began to use marketing slogans, advertising the new Cadbury's chocolate as “Absolutely Pure: Therefore Best”. In 1868 they began selling chocolates in boxes. To the dismay of some austere Quakers the design of the boxes of chocolates became more and more elaborate, but the idea was successful and the company thrived.

In 1869 Joseph Rowntree (1836–1925) left his father’s grocery business in York to enter a cocoa and chocolate partnership with his brother John. Rowntree's grew into a highly successful concern, developing many new chocolate products.

Milk chocolate was invented in 1875 by Henri Nestlé and Daniel Peter who were not Friends.

Readers will remember Carol Off's horrific history of the misery and slavery involved in the production of cocoa and chocolate. So it is ironic that Quaker chocolate firms were amongst the most committed to their own British workers, the companies who provided the very best services and con­ditions to people who would have other­wise been exploited by British factory owners in the industrialised north. Rowntree's and Cadbury's, both Quaker companies, were run in a spirit of welfare capitalism. The workers were treated not as mere cogs in a machine, but as characters to be developed and souls to be saved. 

Rowntree's was one of the first companies to have dedic­ated welfare officers whose job was to look after the well-being and moral character of the young, single male and female workers. There was also a medical officer, regular medical and dental examinations, and company public health campaigns against the evils of tobacco and booze. As the company grew to a staff of c4,000, Joseph Rowntree was keen to make sure they were united by a common purpose. So he introduced one of the first in-house company magazines, as well as group-bonding concerts, theatricals, meals together and field trips.

Workers' houses and gardens in Bournville.
Good transport to work and no slums 

Rowntree's founded the village of New Earswick in North Yorkshire for low income families in 1902 where quality education was provided for workers’ children. Rowntree's were particularly noted for the Adult Schools and the family played an important part in the establishment of the public library in York.

Situated in Birmingham and located close to a railway and canal, the Cadbury brothers built a brand new factory surrounded by gardens and improved the lives of their workers by building sixteen houses. They named this new village Bournville and over time added additional homes, a school, and a hospital on 330 acres of land. Before WW1 there were 144 cottages available for the Cadbury's workers near their factory. Infant mortality and death rates in the village in 1915 were half those of Birmingham as a whole. Cadbury's was the first firm to grant its workers a 5-day working week and to provide medical facilities, a canteen, leisure activities and community gardens.  Women’s and men’s swimming pools were built in the village, and each young boy and girl joining the Cadbury workforce was encouraged to become a good swimmer.

None of the Quaker chocolatiers exist today. Fry's merged with Cad­bury's after WW1; Rowntree's was later taken over by Nestlé and Cadbury's was taken over by Kraft. The Quaker influence in these businesses eventually disappeared. Did the workers’ rights and responsibilities also disappear?


As I often noted in this blog, there had already been late C19th companies with a range of modern, humanitarian, philan­throp­ic and Christian motives. And it was in the industrial Midlands and north that the most significant contributions were made eg Lever’s Port Sunlight in 1888. I imagine the three Quaker chocolate families fitted very well into such models. 

Workers were encouraged to take a proper lunch break during working hours.
Women's canteen, Rowntree's.


Joseph said...


It wasn't just chocolate. The Quaker Business method was based on how religious meetings were organised. And many of the attributes valued by the Quakers helped excel in the world of business. Some of Britain’s best known brands and institutions were established by Quakers including Barclays and Llyods banks, Carr’s biscuits, Brant and May matches, Waterford Crystal, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, the RSPCA and Oxfam.


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I guess the philosophy of the chocolate companies was "out of sight, out of mind." In America, the idea of Quaker business calls to mind Quaker Oats, founded in Ravenna, Ohio (not far from Cleveland; if you ever find yourself in Ravenna, be sure to visit the Ravenna Bog, a fascinating remnant of the glacial age). Apparently, the Quaker image was used for its connotations of honesty--if any real Quaker was involved, it was in the company's dim, early past.

Anonymous said...

So where did greedy companies come from? Obviously not from the Quaker chocolate companies. Coincidentally I am writing a post for tomorrow or the next day about Melbourne's own unique apartment garden suburb. I might not get it finished for tomorrow.

Hels said...


Nod. Quakers proved to be very good businessmen, in a wider range of businesses than I had imagined. Now I wonder if Quaker bosses used their profits to improve the lives of the companies' workers, or if happy workers were so productive, it led to greater profits.

Hels said...


you were not very impressed with the Quakers' promotion of workers' rights in Ohio, I take it :)

I think you would have been delighted with the modernity and decency of the Quaker bosses in the British chocolate companies. I might have expected good working conditions in the factories eg 5-day working week, light filled working space, a fully equipped nurse and pleasant canteen. But some lucky workers enjoyed decent housing, good schooling for the children and gardens as well.

Hels said...


great topic! Garden suburbs and planned company towns in Britain were brilliant, discussed in the second half of the 19th century. I actually think Bedford Park might have been the first, way back in 1875. http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/bedford-park-1875-80-first-garden.html

They were formally made into a movement in 1898 when Sir Ebenezer Howard launched his books and plans. I am sure garden suburbs were created for philanthropic and Christian motives, but the biggest and best outcomes were the improved health of the residents and the better education of their children. Have a look at the posts on Letchworth Garden City 1899, Hampstead Garden Suburb 1907 and Welwyn Garden City 1919.

Which garden suburbs appeal to you in Australia?

Parnassus said...

Hi again, I didn't mean to imply that the company was non-benevolent or poorly run, just that the word 'Quaker' was simply a trademark. Quaker Oats had a large plant in Akron, Ohio (Quaker Square) that is now used by the University of Akron for rather interesting and unusual student housing.

Ex-pat said...

I do not like the term industrial paternalism. Workers needed rights, not kindly charity.

Hels said...


many thanks. I would have assumed that at least one of the early owners, the Stuarts or perhaps Henry Crowell, would have been a devout Quaker. If not, then when the American Cereal Company was renamed the Quaker Oats Company in 1901, it must have been for perceived commercial value.

Hels said...


you are quite right. Industrial paternalism is rightwing speak for as an infringement on the autonomy of the worker, albeit with a protective motive on the side of the boss. Since authoritative social control was not at all what the chocolate companies were about, I will find a much better expression.

Fatima de la Fuente del Moral said...

France soon fell under the spell of the cacao bean, thanks to Anne of Austria, daughter of Philip III of Spain. When she married Louis XIII of France, she brought with her the royal Spanish custom of drinking chocolate for breakfast. Later chocolate began reaching the tables of Spain’s wider social classes. From the beginning of the 19th century, however, new industrial methods allowed even higher consumption at a much lower cost. Soon chocolate was replacing tea and coffee as the drink of choice.

Fatima de la Fuente del Moral

Hels said...


thank you. Cortes took the cocoa back to Spain in the 1520s and 1540s, and soon the Spanish starting adopting chocolate as a royal drink. Anne married King Louis XIII by proxy in 1615 and moved to France when she was grown up enough; she become powerful in her own right when she was queen consort of France and regent (1643–51) for her son Louis XIV of France. It seems she left the governing of the country to the chief minister Cardinal Mazarin, but ran the court exactly how she preferred.

Hels said...

Jetton Chan

I don't do advertising. But I hoped you enjoyed the chocolate factories, shops and restaurants, or at least their history.

Hels said...


architecture has many responsibilities beyond the strictly functional, doesn't it? Good on these companies for caring about their workers' clean air, spacious working environment, natural light, healthcare staff, regular breaks from work etc etc.

Gayathri said...

Buy organic chocolates online

Hels said...


have you read Carol Off's book Bitter Chocolate: Investigating The Dark Side Of The World's Most Seductive Sweet? What did you think of it?

GS Magazine said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hels said...

GS Magazine

I am pleased you enjoyed this blog. But no advertising please.

David Mazouz said...

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Hels said...


ethical was the key word back then, correct.

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Hels said...


did you read Bitter Chocolate: Investigating The Dark Side Of The World's Most Seductive Sweet ? You will love it.