For most of its history, chocolate was consumed as a beverage. Only for the last 200 years has chocolate been eaten as a solid food.
The earliest candy bars were made of bittersweet chocolate. Milk chocolate was introduced in 1875 when Henri Nestlé, a maker of evaporated milk, and Daniel Peter, a chocolate maker, got together and invented milk chocolate, which today is preferred by 80% of the world’s population.
At the 1893 Columbian Exposition, a World’s Fair held in Chicago, chocolate-making machinery made in Dresden, Germany, was displayed. It caught the eye of Milton S. Hershey, who had made his fortune in caramels and saw the potential for chocolate. He installed chocolate machinery in his factory in Lancaster, and produced his first chocolate bars in 1894.
Other Americans began mixing in ingredients such as peanuts, almonds and caramel to make up new candy bars throughout the end of the 1890s and the early 1900s. But it was World War I that really brought attention to the candy bar.
The U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps commissioned various American chocolate manufacturers to provide 20 to 40 pound blocks of chocolate to be shipped to quartermaster bases. The blocks were chopped up into smaller pieces and distributed to doughboys in Europe. Eventually the task of making smaller pieces was turned back to the manufacturers. By the end of the war when the doughboys arrived home, the American candy bar business was assured. Why? Because the returning doughboys had grown fond of chocolate candy and now as civilians wanted more of the same. As a result, from that time on and through the 1920s, candy bar manufacturers became established throughout the United States, and as many as 40,000 different candy bars appeared on the scene.
The original candy bar industry had its start on the eastern seaboard in such cities as Philadelphia, Boston and New York. The industry soon spread to the Midwest, because shipping and raw materials such as sugar, corn syrup, and milk were easily available. Chicago became the seat of the candy bar industry and is even today an important base.