Mia Ping-Chieh Chen
BU News Service
BROOKLINE – A week after Valentine’s Day, some chocolate lovers are still celebrating.
On the evening of Feb. 20, noted Boston historian Anthony Sammarco introduced the Baker Chocolate Company of Dorchester to an audience, and immersed them in the fascinating history of America’s oldest chocolate manufacturer.
The event was held by Larz Anderson Auto Museum, and was originally scheduled for the previous week in celebration of Valentine’s Day, but was postponed due to an impending winter storm warning. Even so, the event sold out, and numerous guests still attended to enjoy samples of delectable local chocolate. Sammarco also introduced his new book about the famous Baker Chocolate Company and lectured on its history.
The talk began with the origin of chocolate, leading up to the establishment and growth of the company. In 1780, James Baker set up the Baker Chocolate Company with the help of John Hannon, who possessed the rare skills required to create chocolate. The business was the first chocolate factory in the United States.
Sammarco presented the audience with pictures of staff, the company trademark, and past advertisements to capture a sense of the working and living conditions at the time. He also explained the marketing strategies of the 19th century. According to Sammarco, when the Baker Chocolate Company participated in expositions, they did not only provide chocolate and cocoa to taste, but also gave attendees free postcards to share the experience. By expanding advertising efforts and increasing production capacity, the Baker Chocolate Company became known worldwide.
“Having been raised in Dorchester, I had always known of the Baker Chocolate Company. Often, the aroma of chocolate was heady and permeated the area,” said Sammarco. He was encouraged to write about the Baker Chocolate Company’s history by Edith Clifford, a great-niece of Henry L. Pierce, who ran the company in the 19th century and made its brand a recognizable name internationally.
Ellen Mayo used to live near Baker Chocolate Factory in Dorchester, and was interested in the history of the chocolate company, even though the factory had already shut down. Additionally, she has been a friend and fan of Sammarco for a long time.
“I had several [of his] books and have known him for years,” she said.
“He’s just a wonderful, extemporaneous speaker. His knowledge is immense and very enjoyable,” said Sheri Flagler, who has previously heard Sammarco speak. She enjoyed the experience so much that she invited her friend Aliza Dash to this event.
Some members of the audience were new to Sammarco, but interested the “sweet history” of the Baker Chocolate Company. Faith Reynold, who planned to purchase three of Sammarco’s books, described his speech as informative, “especially all the pictures that he showed of what it was like to grow up in the time of Baker’s chocolate.”
Joanne Sgroi, who initially came to the museum for a car exhibition, found the topic surprisingly fascinating. “The author is so thoroughly knowledgeable about his subject, and [I’d like] to reread some of the things he spoke about and maybe learn some more,” she said.