Baker's chocolate, also known as baking chocolate or unsweetened
chocolate, is basically ground cocoa with oil added, or in some cases
not removed, to make a solid "brick".
Baker's Chocolate, on the other hand, is the oldest American brand of chocolate. The company was started in the 1760s,
by a Bostonian named Dr. James Baker, who had an entrepreneurial streak, and an Irish immigrant named John Hannon, who had the unusual skill of being able to make chocolate. At the time, all chocolate had to be imported to the colonies from the West Indies. It was very
expensive, and furthermore came only in the form of beans which had to
be ground by hand with a mortar and pestle. Several New Englanders
had already tried to set up chocolate factories, but they had not been
Dr. Baker purchased an old sawmill in Dorchester (now part of Boston, MA or Milton) on the banks of the Neponset River, which provided
them with unlimited water power for their operation. Nobody knows
where Mr. Hannon learned his trade, but he did know how to make
chocolate. The product, sold under Baker's name, was so popular that
they moved to a larger space (a former cloth mill owned by Baker's
brother-in-law) a few years later so that they could keep up with the
The demand continued to increase, and by 1773 they had opened a second
factory. Baker ran the new factory, while Hannon operated the old
one. In 1775, Hannon's mill burned to the ground. He moved again,
this time into a local snuff mill. It was a struggle to stay in
business when the American Revolution broke out later that year.
They had to smuggle cocoa beans past the Royal Navy.
Hannon reportedly disappeared in 1779 during a voyage to buy beans in
the West Indies. Some said he had drowned in a shipwreck. Others
said he had merely fled his increasingly unpleasant marriage. Either
way, nobody in Dorchester ever heard from him again.
Hannon's "widow" tried to run the factory with his
apprentice, Nathaniel Blake. But Blake decided that she wasn't
competent and walked out on her. He had no trouble finding work at
Dr. Baker's mill, and Dr. Baker had little trouble buying his former
partner's mill from the embittered wife after that.
After almost 40 years in the chocolate business, James Baker handed
the reins to his son, Edmund, who proceeded to expand sales from the
Northeast to the western edges of America's ever-expanding waistline.
However, when war broke out in 1812 he was beset with
the same problems that had plagued his father during the Revolutionary
War. This time the Royal Navy was even more successful, and the
chocolate mill sat idle for two years. Fortunately for Edmund, he had
had the foresight to expand into the cloth and grain industries. So
he had plenty of money, and while he was waiting for the flow of cocoa
beans to resume he tore down his chocolate mill and built a bigger and
better one. When the war ended in 1814, it didn't take long for
Baker's Chocolate to be back on the shelves.
When Edmund Baker retired, he left the company in the hands of his
son, Walter. In 1834, Walter hired the mill's first female
employees. Like most mills, it was a terrible place to work - cold in
winter and brutally hot in summer. There was no shortage of workers,
though, and not just in the Baker factory. By 1842, two rivals
(also located on the Neponset River) had emerged in the chocolate
business, leading to a sort of Chocolate War.
Walter Baker's death in 1852 marked the end of the Baker monarchy in
the chocolate industry. But the Baker Chocolate Factory continued to
churn out its products in Dorchester until 1965, when General Foods
(Baker's parent company since 1927) shut down the brick mill and
moved the whole operation to Delaware.
These days the Baker Chocolate brand is owned by Kraft Foods, Inc.
(probably best known for Kraft Dinner), and the former chocolate mill
has been converted to apartments. The chocolate, unremarkable except for its history, is still widely available in supermarkets in the United States.