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Walter Baker & Co. General History
 Dorchester's most famous industry began in 1765, when Messrs. Wentworth and Storer put up a chocolate-mill on the site of the old powder mill in Milton for an Irish chocolate maker, John Hannan. This is said to be the first mill of its kind in North America, but note that Charles Rappleye in his book Sons of Providence refers to chocolate manufacture in Rhode Island by the Brown family in the 1750s and early 1760s (p. 20, 28). In 1768, the mill was sold to Barlow Trecothic, and Hannan was forced to leave it. He moved to Boston, opening a shop, and induced Edward Preston to manufacture chocolate for him at Preston's fulling-mill. In 1775 Preston's building was destroyed by fire. Hannan then leased the mill where he had worked before from the trustees of Trecothic who had just died in London. Hannan who had married Elizabeth Gore of Boston in 1773 started manufacturing for himself.

Then his marriage proved so unfortunate that he determined to leave his wife. He closed up his business in 1779 and gave out word that he was going to the West Indies for a supply of cocoa. Instead, without telling his wife, he started for Ireland, his native country. He was never heard from again, and it was assumed that he was lost overboard or died on his passage under an assumed name. The widow tried to continue the business, but her disposition caused failure here as well as in her marriage.

Daniel Vose hired the mill and started chocolate making in 1780. His business lasted only a short time due to competition from James Baker who, in 1780, also ventured into chocolate anufacture. James Baker was born September 5, 1739, and owing to the gentleness of his disposition, his parents were induced to fit him for the ministry. With this in view he went through Harvard College, graduating in 1760, and then began to study theology with the Rev. Jonathan Bowman, the minister of Dorchester, whose son-in-law he afterwards became. While fitting for his profession, Mr. Baker taught school, and this delayed him in getting started in the ministry. It soon became apparent that his extreme diffidence would prevent him from performing the duties of a minister; so he voluntarily gave up the idea, and began to study medicine, teaching school at intervals during this period. The profession of medicine, however, proved distasteful to him; and he laid in a stock of merchandise, and opened a store. In 1780, he saw that there were great possibilities in the chocolate business; so he closed his store, and began to manufacture chocolate. The success of this undertaking was remarkable, and 'Baker's Chocolate' has been manufactured ever since, now being known in all parts of the world." He arranged with Edward Preston to fit up a mill in the fulling-mill building where the former one was burned. Mr. Preston's mill did not have enough power to keep up with Baker's demands as well as his own, and in 1789 Baker made arrangements with Sumner and Connor to erect a mill at their dam farther up the Neponset. Mr. Baker put Nathaniel Blake who had worked for Hannan in charge of it. The mill was too far away from Baker's residence, so in 1791 he fitted up part of David Vose's paper mill for chocolate-making.

Edmund Baker was associated with his father, James Baker, from 1791 to 1804 when James retired. Edmund increased the business, leasing the mill in which Hannan first began from Daniel Vose who had purchased it from Trecothic's heirs. Edmund acquired a new site and built a new mill building in 1806. This industry proved very successful, and when the War of 1812 checked European importations, it became a large-scale industry. In 1813 Edmund Baker replaced his mill with a granite mill building. In 1818, he took his son Walter in partnership and retired in 1824. Colonel Walter Baker became a prominent man in the town, being closely associated with every event of local importance. In 1848, when the mill burned, it was taken down and replaced with a new granite building. This building was itself replaced by a brick and stone building known as Mill No. 5. Walter Baker died in 1852, leaving the property with Sidney B. Williams, a brother-in-law, who had for some time had an interest in the business. Henry L. Pierce, also a relative, who had been an assistant both to Mr. Baker and to Mr. Williams assumed charge in 1854 upon Mr. Williams' death. He leased the mill and arranged with the trustees under Mr. Baker's will to continue the business under the name of Walter Baker & Co. Limited.

Under his management the house of Walter Baker & Co. gained a worldwide name, and the modest mill grew into a plant of more than forty acres on both sides of the Neponset River.

In 1881 Mr. Pierce acquired also the chocolate business of Webb and Twombly who started chocolate making in 1843 and continued together until Mr. Josiah Twombly retired in 1861. Josiah Webb continued to make chocolate up to 1881 when he sold his business to Mr. Pierce.

On a trip to Europe in 1881 Henry Pierce saw the pastel of La Belle Chocolatiere or Chokolademadchen by Swiss artist Jean Etienne Liotard in a gallery in Dresden, Germany. Pierce adopted the chocolate lady as the Walter Baker & Co. trademark in 1883. The subject of the painting, Anna Baltauf (1740-1825) was the daughter of a knight who lived in Vienna. In the mid 18th century, chocolate shops were the rage in Europe, and Anna was a chocolate server in one of the shops. One Afternoon, the Austrian Prince Ditrichstien came to the shop, fell in love with Anna and later married her. As a present to his bride, the Prince commissed the pastel portrait.

Pierce served two terms in Congress and two terms as Mayor of Boston. The Henry L. Pierce School near Codman Square was a result of Mr. Pierce's beneficence. Upon the decease of Pierce in 1896, Walter Baker & Company became a publicly-held company, incorporated under the general laws of Massachusetts, and H.C. Gallagher became the president. The company reported in 1910 that it then comprised 6 mills on both sides of the Neponset River, containing 500,000 square feet of floor space--about 11 and one half acres. In 1927 it became a division of General Foods. The conglomerate operated the business in Dorchester until 1965, when they moved it to Dover, Delaware. Kraft Foods later purchased the Baker's chocolate division.

Sam German developed German's sweet chocolate for the company in 1852. In 1957 a Texas homemaker sent the recipe for German's chocolate cake to a Dallas newspaper engendering a spike in chocolate sales. Today the cake is most often known as German Chocolate Cake.


Sources:

Chapple, Joe M. "The House that Baker Built". In National Magazine, June, 1906.

Cocoa and Chocolate: A Short History of Their Production and Use. Dorchester: Walter Baker & Co. Limited, 1910.

Dorchester Old and New, 1630-1930. Dorchester: Chapple Publishing Company for the Dorchester, Massachusetts, Tercentenary Committee, 1930.

History of the Town of Dorchester, Massachusetts. By a Committee of the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society. Boston: Ebenezer Clapp, Jr., 1859.

Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester: A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893. Second edition. Cambridge: The University Press, 1908.


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Created: May 17, 2005   Modified: September 29, 2008