James Baker Meets John Hannon

In 1765, a Harvard educated doctor named James Baker met an Irish immigrant and chocolate maker named John Hannon. With Baker’s money and Hannon’s knowledge, the two of them converted an old mill on the banks of Massachusetts’s Neponset River into a chocolate factory. In the mill, they ground cocoa beans between huge millstones to make a thick syrup. The chocolate syrup was poured into molds to make “cakes” of chocolate. These were meant to be grated and mixed with hot water to make a chocolate beverage. The cakes were sold under the name “Hannon’s Best Chocolate.”

Baker and Hannon's Chocolate Business Expands

The business was successful, and in 1768, the men moved their operation to a new, larger facility. In 1772, Baker opened a second mill, while Hannon continued to operate the older one. It was rumored that the two had begun having disagreements, but nobody knows for sure. When the American Revolution began, things grew difficult for the chocolatiers. Cocoa beans grew more expensive, and in addition, they had to be smuggled into the country so the British Navy wouldn’t confiscate them.

John Hannon Disappears

In 1779, John Hannon went on a voyage to the West Indies with the intention of purchasing cocoa beans, and disappeared. It is unknown whether he died on the trip or if he merely chose not to return. In 1780, after an amount of legal wrangling with Hanon’s widow, Baker gained full control of the company. Thereafter, it was known as “The Baker Company.” In 1783 the Revolution ended, and chocolate production returned to normal.

Edmund Baker Takes Over

When James Baker stepped down from his position, he turned the company over to his son, Edmund. Edmund expanded the family business significantly, opening another chocolate mill as well as a gristmill and a cloth mill. During the war of 1812, when cocoa beans were again in short supply, it was the grain and the cloth that kept the family in business. During this time, in fact, the chocolate operation ceased for two whole years due to an inability to import cocoa. Once the war was over, Edmund tore down his original chocolate mill and built an even larger one.

Baker's Chocolates Changes Hands

In 1824, Edmund retired and let his son, Walter, take over the chocolate business. Walter remained at the helm until his death in 1854, at which point the company passed on to a man named Henry Pierce. General Foods purchased The Baker Company in 1927, and the factory remained open until 1965, when the company was moved to Dover, Delaware. In 1989, General Foods merged with Kraft. The combined company is now part of the Altria group, which used to be known as Philip Morris Companies Inc. The Baker Company continues to turn out chocolate from its plant in Delaware, and the original Baker buildings along the Neponset River have been turned into condominiums. The residents there swear that they can still smell chocolate in the air.

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