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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Walter Baker by Anthony M. Sammarco

Walter Baker (1792–1852) was the son of Edmund and Sarah Howe Baker.
He was graduated from Harvard College in 1811 and then attended Judge
Tappan Reeve’s Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut. In 1812, he left the
law school and returned to Dorchester, where he was engaged in a woolen
manufacturing business with five looms during the War of 1812. This business
proved immensely successful, as European imports had been curtailed. By
1815, he was in Natchez, Mississippi, teaching school, but three years later
he was taken into partnership with his father in the family chocolate mill. In
1824, Walter Baker assumed the presidency of Baker Chocolate upon his
father’s retirement, and henceforth the company was known as Walter Baker
& Company. He married twice. His first wife was Deborah Smith Mott, and
they were the parents of Walter Baker Jr. (1825–1887). After her death in
1838, Baker served as chairman of the committee that built Lyceum Hall on
Meeting House Hill in Dorchester, an elegant Greek Revival building that
served as a place for lectures, dances and community events. His second wife
was Eleanor Jameson Williams (1806–1892), whose father was a wealthy
Boston East India merchant then living in Philadelphia. They had four
children, none of whom survived infancy.

Baker served as colonel of the First Regiment, First Brigade, First Division,
of the state militia and was to be known as Colonel Baker for the remainder
of his life. However, he devoted himself to the chocolate mill and began
an expansion that continued unabated for the next twenty-five years. He
introduced a less expensive chocolate known as Lapham, which he named
for his employee Elisha Lapham. He also introduced spiced cocoa sticks
in 1840, homeopathic chocolate in 1844, J.G. French’s Chocolate (named
for Baker’s coachman Jacob G. French), Caracas chocolate in 1849 and
German’s Sweet Chocolate (perfected by Baker’s former coachman Samuel
German) in 1852. He shipped his chocolate, cocoa and broma throughout the United States, and it was said that Abraham Lincoln and his partner, William Barry, sold Baker’s
Chocolate and Cocoa in their New Salem, Illinois general store, the only packaged and branded food product available there.

In 1834, Baker hired the first two women to work at the mill, sisters Christina and Mary Shields, to wrap and prepare the 750 pounds of chocolate produced daily. In 1848, the mill built in 1813 by his father, Edmund Baker, was destroyed by fire and was replaced by a new three-story mill designed by Gridley J. Fox Bryant and built of rough-hewn Quincy granite. The mill was impressive and insured for $7,023, with the machinery, pans and utensils being insured for an additional $6,010. A sign bearing the legend “W. Baker & Co., Established 1780” was hung on the façade. This obviously fireproof mill had brick floors, granite walls and a “safe stove” where cocoa was made, and according to A Calendar of Walter Baker & Company, it “prevent[ed] incendiaries making their way into the mill…inside shutters [were installed] on all lower story windows.” This new mill was the center of chocolate production, with two men, two apprentices, six girls and a forelady.

Upon his death in 1852, Walter Baker left a chocolate mill that was one of four in the Lower Mills. The aspect of so much chocolate being produced led to the area being known as Chocolate Village, and his family’s delicious vision was continued by trustees and is today part of Kraft Family Foods.

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