If you’ve ever walked into an Esther Price candy store, you know the power of sugar, chocolate and all that can be found in those gold boxes. In 1887, an unnamed reporter in New York found out for himself just how intense the experience could be in a large factory of sugar and chocolate. Here is his story.
“With fear and trembling, and a heart surcharged with anxiety lest somebody should see him, a reporter made his way into a candy factory the other day. He took a slim-legged dude along with him to swear to an alibi in case of need.
A door opened and shut, and the visitors found themselves in a room which at first sight might have been taken for a machine shop. Ponderous wheels revolved noiselessly, and upon every side great engines stretched and drew back their long steel arms, engaged upon some unknown but titanic task. The odor of chocolate was well-nigh overpowering.
The reporter stepped forward to an enormous bowl of polished copper and gazed into its depths. A strange sight greeted his eyes. Within the interior of this great copper vessel revolved two large mill stones, while a steel rake, constantly in motion, directed a river of rich brown chocolate so that it flowed steadily under the wheels. It was extraordinary how this mighty torrent twisted in and out—a great writhing boa constrictor struggling to escape.”
“That is the grinder,” remarked the superintendent. “That stuff in there is simply crushed cocoa bean and sugar. It looks semi-liquid, of course, but that is because of the essential oil of the bean.”
“Near the grinder stood a machine something like a great coffee mill. Cocoa beans in their entirety were turned into a hopper at the top and issued in the form of a liquid into a large vat beneath.
Chocolate making is rather a complicated process. Bean are first placed in a separator, which dries and sorts them. Next, they are roasted. Machine #3 cracks them, cleans and throws out shells and germ, preserving the kernels. After this, kernels are ground with sugar. Half made now, the chocolate is heated in an oven, then passed through three finishing machines. Finally it comes into the hands of pretty young girls, who wrap it in silver foil and box it.”
“In a small room well lighted and ventilated and scrupulously clean, five men were at work. They looked like a band of Brazilian planters who had been lifted up and set down in the middle of a Canadian snow storm. They were clothed from head to foot in spotless cotton, cotton coats, cotton aprons, cotton trousers, cotton shirts and cotton caps. A white powder drifting through the room settled on their mustaches and faces, to say nothing of their clothing. This powder was cornstarch. Over a huge copper caldron, heating beneath by a coil of sinuous steam pipes, leaned one of those queer white figures. In his hand he held a gigantic spoon, and every now and then he stirred the contents of the vessel vigorously.
The reporter peered over the brink and saw a mass of snow white substance about the consistency of buttermilk. “Try some?” queried the superintendent, pushing a ladle into the vat. It was marshmallow, but oh, such marshmallow! It took two ladles to quiet the reporter and dude and even then they looked longingly at the copper as the party turned away.”
“Through a narrow passageway past a curious machine that husked almonds and blanched them at the rate of 10,000 a minute, then through a swinging door, they stepped into a fairyland. At four long tables sat forty girls, every one of them young and pretty. Every one of them wore a little apron and little white mull cap. It fairly took the men’s breath away. Each girl was armed with a long-handled spoon. In front of each stood a tiny gas stove with a tiny copper kettle. Each little can was half full of colored paste. Green paste held pistachio nuts, violet hued, then crushed strawberry paste, brown, sky-blue, yellow, and pastes of every imaginable shade. Walls of this room were literally composed of candy. Tier after tier of shelves were heaped as high as one could reach with tin slabs containing rows of party-colored bonbons.
Another room, more pretty girls, more bonbons. Again, another room, this time with three enormous copper vats. Into each at protruded an air pipe like the one in the marshmallow room. These vats though were supported on an incline of forty-five degrees. They revolved at great speed. Within each, hopping about literally like peas on a griddle, were 125 pounds of sugared almonds. Think of it!”
“Next was the cream room. Here stood huge vessels filled with paste of all flavors. Raspberry, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, pistachio. These were the fillings for various sorts of fine confectionary. Also were buckets of ‘crystal’ a compound of sugar for glazing. Men were shoveling the cream, (sugar, water and flavoring) with wooden trowels as recklessly as if it wasn’t good to eat and as if young men were not alive to pay $1 a pound for it.”
“Another large room and of course pretty girls, prettier than the first two rooms. Like stars in galaxies. They were armed with little two-pronged forks. Before each sat a kettle of chocolate and a tin plate of creams of various colors and shapes. Taking the little creams on their forks, they soused them in the chocolate, fishing them out and placing them on long tin slabs to dry.
In the packing department, again more pretty girls. Wrapping bonbons in paper and chocolates in foil, stowing them all in neat boxes. Then there were the capacious cellars beneath the building where 12,000 bottles of fruit extracts were stored as well as chocolate storing rooms, and large marble slabs for cooling taffy.”
Story from Springfield Daily Republic, 1887. Chronicling America, Library of Congress.
Endnote: The young men came away dazed and smelling strongly of sugar and chocolate. Later that evening the only thing they could think to say after eating a small repast was “there’s nothing that finishes up a good meal better than a bit of candy.” So, with fear and trembling and hearts surcharged from all they had seen, they consumed the five-pound deluxe box of fresh chocolate bonbons, a gift from all those pretty girls.