The History of Chocolate

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is just one of the few literary tributes to that popular sweet. No one who reads it can avoid craving chocolate, especially when reading of hungry Charlie Bucket sniffing the aroma from the factory on the way to and from school. Movies like Chocolat (Johnny Depp) and every movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have the same result.

However, chocolate as the sweetmeat, with all its various tastes and flavors, is a rather recent development. New discoveries are still being made about chocolate, who used it over history, how it was used, and how old the use of chocolate is.

How Old Is Chocolate?

The latest discoveries show chocolate was probably used as early as 1,500 B.C. While anthropologists believed the earliest forms of chocolate were drinks, they have also discovered evidence that chocolate may have been eaten as garnishing or bases for food. The reason cacao beans were ever ground and eaten, however, is not yet known.

Where Does the Word “Chocolate” Come From?

Xocoatl is the original term for what we know as ‘chocolate.’ That word was used, specifically, for the Aztec drink brewed from cacao beans. There is no sure knowledge about the meaning of the word. The Mayan term for the beans was cacau, which we now know as cacao and its corrupted form, cocoa.

Chocolate in Mayan Culture

What we know today about how to prepare cacao beans for use in chocolate came from the Mayans. In fact, their methods of growing, picking, drying, grinding, and roasting the beans is practically unchanged even today. The only difference global popularity has made was to make mass production easier.

Mayans loved chocolate; it was an integral part of their culture. It was a drink for elites, but was also used for a number of ceremonies and rituals. The marriage ceremony was one, where husband and wife would drink the cacau much the same way wine is drank in modern ceremonies. Baptism of children was also done with chocolate.

Chocolate in Aztec Culture

Chocolate in Aztec Culture was very much the same as in Mayan culture. It was also used in their rituals and ceremonies, namely in marriage and baptism. Cacao beans were ground and used in bitter drinks, and they were also used as currency. Cacao also had a divinity of its own, seen as a bridge between man and the gods. Therefore, cacao drinks were believed to give some kind of supernatural gifting to those who drank them.

How Did Chocolate Reach Europe?

Chocolate found its way into Europe through conquerors and traders. According to legend, both Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortez brought cacao beans to Europe from the Americas. They could not help but note the significance of the bean, because cacao was being used as currency.

Cacao was considered too bitter for anything but fashionable consumption, although some found a taste for the earliest forms. It took a while for cacao to become the soft, pasty consistency we know today. Sugar, and sometimes honey, was used in an attempt to lower the bitterness of the chocolate.

Eventually, a tiny company named Nestle discovered the mixture that would catapult the cacao bean into fame: cacao paste and milk. The taste produced by this recipe pioneered the modern milk chocolate which is the most common kind today. After this, the use of chocolate spread like wildfire over Europe and, later, to North America.

The History of Chocolate: A History of Potency

Today, we cannot name what made the old-time cacao mixtures so attractive to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. After all, what they developed at the time was bitter, and of one taste. However, the fact that the cacao products were well-loved is undeniable. This chocolate base has literally proved itself potent for several millennia.

Want to read about more awesome history? Check out the University of Memphis History Department for more historical awesomeness. A magical place where we help students get online masters in history.

The History of Chocolate

4 Facts About the Battle of Fort Sumter

The Battle at Fort Sumter is known as the first battle of the Civil War, and is a landmark battle because of it. However, at the time (April 1861), both the South and the North believed the war would be a simple settling of differences. Not until the Battle of First Manassas in July did both sides realize that neither secession nor unity were quite so simple. As a result, this battle was conducted very differently.

Fact #1: The Defense of Fort Sumter was Symbolic for the Federal Army

There were three federal forts in Charleston: Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, and Fort Moultrie. Castle Pinckney was too lightly defended to be a threat, Fort Moultrie was well-armed but all its guns pointed out to sea. Only Fort Sumter was properly defensible, which is why it became the last federal fort standing in the secessionist South.

President Abraham Lincoln could have given up the Fort, since there was no tactical advantage in holding it. There was no way the Fort could have been re-taken, given where it was. However, the President knew that federal strength needed to be acknowledged in the Union and internationally, which is why supplies and reinforcements were still sent.

Fact #2: The Attack of Fort Sumter was Symbolic for the Confederate Army

If the Confederates were not taking secession seriously, they did not have to make a point of making Fort Sumter surrender, or attacking it at all. They could have taken the longer way of negotiation. However, to succeed as a state, they knew that international recognition was crucial. To prove their sovereignty, taking Fort Sumter as soon as possible was crucial.

Fact #3: No Lives Were Lost On Either Side

An estimated 3,000 cannon shells were loosed from both the besieged and the besieging forces. However, there were only injuries from flying wood and mortar. Few wars have started so positively for both sides. It also maintained Confederate spirits in the face of the beginning of the war.

Fact #4: The Projectile Fired Over Fort Sumter Introduced Rifled-Barrel Cannon

The projectile fired over Fort Sumter came from Fort Johnson, James Island, and it was a Blakely projectile from a rifled-barrel gun. The range, and the accuracy of the projectile at that range, warned both Federal and Confederate troops that they needed more of those. Failing to switch over to rifled-barrel cannon would put them at a defensive disadvantage. However, switching over was also one of the main reasons the death count in the Civil War reached such heights.

Fort Sumter Set the Stage for the War

At the time, no one had any idea how long the war would draw out, and how many lives would be claimed. However, on that night, both sides communicated to the other that they were willing to fight until victory.


The aforementioned was part of an article on whether or not the civil war was inevitable by HankeringforHistory.

4 Facts About the Battle of Fort Sumter

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Civil War

Speaking from a 21st century perspective, it is difficult to see how a novel could be as important as the political and economic tensions that led to the Civil War. Those are easier to note, and more quantifiable. However, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was such a novel. Most significantly, the novel roused both anti-slavery and pro-slavery public sentiment high enough that war was not heavily objected to.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Birth of a Novel

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was part and parcel of the Compromise of 1850 (the Kansas-Nebraska Act). It stated that any escaped slaves found in any state, whether or slave or free, could be caught and returned to their owners. All the catcher or owner had to do was declare, orally, that the slave was a runaway. It also placed penalties on anyone who aided a runaway slave.

Harriet Beecher Stowe acted upon her sister-in-law’s suggestion, to write a novel about the personal side of slavery. Her protagonist, Uncle Tom, is sold and re-sold to different kinds of slave-owners, both kind and sadistic. Multiple side stories describe separations of families, and the helplessness of slaves whose masters had died.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Popularity, and Public Sentiment

Abolitionists could easily be dismissed as extremists, with the easy phrase, “surely it’s not really that bad.” In other words, slavery and the realities of slavery had no hold over the public, both in the Northern and the Southern states. Stowe’s novel bypassed the prejudices against extremism, and brought slavery to the eyes, and more importantly the emotions, of the public.

In its first year, Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold 300,000 copies in 1852. By the time of the Civil War, it had already sold over 2 million copies, both in the United States and abroad. Throughout the 1850s, the book became a staple of the family library in the free states. It also provoked proslavery writings and arguments from the slave-holding South.

This heightening of public emotion and sentiment served to split the emotional divide between the North and the South more clearly. The North now had more of a reason to abolish slavery; the South now had more of a complaint of their unfair treatment by the north. Public sentiment, as Lincoln admitted, was crucial to carrying out a war that needed the sanction of an elected Congress.


In other words, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was indeed crucial to the Civil War. It gave the war legitimacy in the public’s eyes, allowing the conflict to continue as long as it did. It also gave the Union the moral high ground both nationally and internationally.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Civil War