Candy bars may seem quintessentially American, but they have origins in the World War I chocolate rations given to European soldiers with the American military following suit.Throughout the 1920s, thousands of small, regional confectioners emerged to meet the demand, creating a candy boom. Hershey’s was the planet’s biggest chocolate maker at the time.
While the history of chocolate consumption stretches back 4,000 years to ancient cultures in what is today Mexico and Central America, the U.S. story of chocolate has strong military associations.
In the earliest decades of the United States, candy was quickly recognized not just as a sweet treat, but as a valuable way to fuel troops. During the Revolutionary War, chocolate, a favorite treat of George Washington, became part of his soldier’s rations. It was prized for its combined kick of caffeine and sugar; it even served as occasional payment to American troops in lieu of money. Candy also played a role in the Civil War, used as “a provision with quick energy and lots of sugar,” says Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America.
While the first chocolate bar was created by Joseph Fry in Great Britain in 1847, and Cadbury began selling individual boxes of chocolate candies there as early as 1868, it would take the outbreak of war on a global scale for the chocolate candy bar to really take off.