A Taste of Providence: The Rise of Chocolate
The dining room of Lippitt House Museum is home to an array of art pieces, though none are quite as intriguing as The Chocolate Girl. This 19th century oil painting hangs above the grand dining room and depicts a servant carrying two cups, one with water and the other with hot chocolate. While it may seem like a curious choice of art piece, the presence of this painting in the Lippitt family dining room is reflective of the important and fascinating role chocolate played throughout US history.
The practice of chocolate production is over 4,000 years old and originates in what is present day Mexico and Central America. The US has its own history with chocolate consumption, much of which can be linked to military endeavors. During the Revolutionary War, chocolate was included in rations for soldiers and was widely valued as an energy booster. (source)
While today chocolate is most commonly found in candy bars and other treats, in the 18th century, chocolate was mainly consumed as a beverage. We see evidence of this in Providence when in 1786, Metcalf Bowler opened the Providence Coffee House, serving coffee, tea, and chocolate drinks.
So how did cocoa and chocolate reach the place of popularity it holds today in the US? The answer lies largely in military conflict. During the first world war, British and US soldiers were given blocks of chocolate in their rations to increase morale and energy. Additionally, when US soldiers fighting in World War I returned home, they did so right at the beginning of Prohibition. Chocolate candy was one of the alternatives Americans sought to replace alcohol as a mood and energy booster. This period saw the creation of the Baby Ruth bar, the PayDay bar, and the 18th Amendment bar, further establishing chocolate as a mainstay of American food. (source)