How Did Baker’s Chocolate® Get Its Name?

cocoa.jpg Edible Traditions tells us, “In North America English colonists loved chocolate too, and in the early 18th century it was an established beverage throughout the 13 colonies. Direct trade routes from theWest Indies and the absence of tariffs made cacao more affordable in the colonies than in Europe. Unencumbered by monopolies, guilds or patents, chocolate making in the colonies had relatively low barriers to entry. 

“For sure, attempts were made to manufacture chocolate. The Brown family of Providence, Rhode Island, had a chocolate mill, and other port cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore undoubtedly tried similar ventures. Yet by 1765 chocolate making in the colonies was still done in small batches for home consumption and sold within a few miles to nearby merchants and apothecaries.The Neponset River running between Dorchester and Milton proved to be a center for innovation in colonial Boston. Using the river’s water power, a network of factories supported essential industries such as grist mills, gunpowder and paper to luxury products such as playing cards, the pianoforte, a bass viol and chocolate.”

Nearly a quarter century before George Washington became the first President of the United States, a small factory was milling chocolate under the brand name of Baker’s® in Dorchester Massachusetts. In those days, John Hannon, Irish immigrant and chocolate maker by trade, captured the interest and the friendship of Dr. James Baker. Hannon often complained of the lack of a chocolate mill in America. Baker decided to finance a mill for Hannon. He leased a mill in the Lower Mills section on the banks of Neponset River, purchased a run of mill stones and a set of kettles, and put Hannon to work. 

51YSsXvNCxL.jpg The original brand name was “Hannon’s Best Chocolate.” The business prospered. In 1777, Hannon advertised his product with a money-back satisfaction guarantee. However, in 1779, Hannon set out for the West Indies to purchase cocoa beans. He never reached his destination. Although no one knows for certain, he was presumed to be lost at sea. The name of the product was changed in 1780 after Hannon’s wife, Elizabeth Gore Hannon, sold her husband’s share of the company to Baker in 1780, after Hannon never returned. At the time, it was rumored that Hannon intended to leave his wife, and thus deserted her. (Sammarco, A.M. (2011).  The Baker Chocolate Company: A Sweet History. History Press. pp. 9–11.) Original versions of the brand were not prepared for baking, and before 1865, the company purveyed three grades of drinking chocolate, which were “Best Chocolate”, “Common Chocolate” and “Inferior Chocolate”. The inferior grade was mostly sold to West Indian and American slaves. Dr. Baker kept the business going until his grandson could take over the helm. It was Walter Baker who gave the company its name in 1824. 

la-belle-chocolatiere-bakers-chocolate-dede-wilson-baking-178x300.jpg It was also Walter who gave the company its official trademark.  He chose La Belle Chocolatiere to represent his company. “The young lady named “La Belle Chocolatiere” that still appears on packages is a representation of the original painting that hangs in the Dresden Gallery in Germany. La Belle Chocolatiere has graced the Baker’s Chocolate package since 1877, making her the oldest product trademark in America. Her story dates back to 1745 when Prince Dietrichstein, an Austrian nobleman, went to a chocolate shop to try the new drink everyone was talking about – hot chocolate. His waitress was Anna Baltauf, and the prince was so taken by the young lady that he soon asked her to marry him, making her a princess. Prince Dietrichstein commissioned a portrait of his wife by the famous Swiss painter Jean Etienne Liotard as a wedding gift. The artist suggested that she pose in her chocolate server’s costume, commemorating what brought them together. Some time prior to 1883, when the image was registered as a U.S. trademark, Henry L. Pierce, then president of Walter Baker & Company, saw the painting and decided it would be the perfect image for his packaged  chocolate.” (Bakepedia: The Baker’s Resource)

From SWEET HISTORY: DORCHESTER AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, we learn,”In 1765, John Hannon, with financier James Baker, began making one of the first chocolate products in America, in a saw mill powered by the Neponset River, just outside Boston in Milton, Massachusetts. A few years later Baker bought out Hannon’s share of the business and created the first products known as Baker’s Chocolate. James Baker, and later his son Edmund, expanded the business, and Edmund moved it across the river to Dorchester. But it was not until the late 19th century, under the leadership of Henry Pierce, that Baker’s Chocolate became the brand consumers and collectors still recognize today.

“Although the business that became Baker’s chocolate began with John Hannon in 1765, it was the Baker family that made that company into a household name. From 1780 to 1895, for 115 years Baker’s Chocolate remained, in one form or another, within the Baker family. The long company history began with James Baker in 1780. When James retired, he passed the business along to his son Edmund in 1804. After growing the company for over twenty years Edmund turned over chocolate making to his son Walter in 1823. For almost thirty years Walter Baker expanded production and made Baker’s Chocolate a recognizable name across the country. Walter did not have a son involved in the chocolate business, so when he died the company was passed along to his brother-in-law and long-time assistant, Sidney Williams. Unfortunately Sidney died suddenly after only two years. Walter Baker’s step-nephew, Henry Pierce, then took over the company. For over forty years Pierce grew the company and increased production capacity to make Baker’s Chocolate known world-wide. When Pierce decided to incorporate the company in 1895, Baker’s Chocolate ceased to be a family business.”


Edible Traditions 

History – Baker’s Chocolate

Sweet History: Dorchester and the Chocolate Factory 



About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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