The 1920s & 1930’s was an era of extremes. Great wealth and borderline poverty. First there was the swinging jazz scene of decadence and excess of a generation who survived the first world war and were determined to enjoy themselves. But it wasn’t to last and the stock market crash of 1929 led to a great depression and world wide economic crisis. Soon the frenetic whirl of the Charleston was replaced by the slow shuffle of hobnail boots in the dole queue. The Lindy Hop for some and the Jarrow March for others.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, political leaders in Britain were worried that returning soldiers, disaffected by the horrors of war, might be encouraged to bring about a revolution all of their own. In fact, the inter war period, between golden guineas and thredbare handouts, saw a revolution of a very different kind.
The revolution I’m talking about was in the production not of unrest, but of chocolate and sweets. There may have been widespread disaffection but there was also pioneering developments in the field of confection.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s, British chocolate companies like Cadbury, Rowntree's and Mackintosh vied with each other to keep pace with a wave of international confectionery innovation.
In the 1920’s chocolate was still expensive and chocolate boxes were given as a special gift often in aluminium gold cigarette cases. By the early to mid 1930’s a carton or casket of Black Magic was more affordable as a romantic gift; while ‘eat more milk’ was the slogan of Milky Way. If you wanted to say ‘thank you’ then Rowntree’s Dairy Box was guaranteed to melt even the hardest of centres.
Many of our favourite sweets and chocolate bars that we know and love today, were first introduced in the 1920s and 1930s. Here’s a quick roll call – or should that be a Rolo call?:
Flake (1920), Fruit and Nut (1921), Milky Way (1923 in the USA 1935 in Britain), Crunchie (1929), Snickers and Freddo (1930), Mars Bar (1932), Whole Nut (1933), Aero and Kit Kat (1935), Maltesers and Blue Riband (1936) and Smarties, Rolo and Milky Bar (1937).
The 1930s, in particular, is often thought of as the golden age of confectionery manufacturing - when many of our most popular products originated: Aero, Smarties, Terry's Chocolate Orange, Black Magic, Dairy Box, Rolo, Fox's glacier mints".
Roald Dahl, author of Charile and the Chocolate Factory, wrote eloquently that the 1930s was the height of chocolate development: "In music, the equivalent would be the golden age of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. In painting, it was the equivalent of the Italian Renaissance and the advent of the Impressionism at the end of the 19th Century; in literature, Tolstoy, Balzac and Dickens."
In between the Black Shirts we had Black Magic; Berlin had Caberet and the Kit Kat club – we had our own Kit Kat of a very different kind. In 1936, when Adolf Hitler was issuing inflammatory demands of war, Aero’s marketing campaign of the same year was “don’t be angry, have a piece of chocolate,”. It’s a only pity it wasn’t translated into German and consignment of confectionary shipped to the Berghof.
Novelty also continued in the development of penny sweets, as the medicinal coltsfoot rock and fisherman's friends gave way to brilliantly coloured rhubarb and custard, gummi bears and jelly babies.
Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp, an earlier forerunner of the Kit Kat, was sold as a meal substitute in the 1930s for busy working people, with advertising actively promoting the 320 calories in each bar of 4 big wafers. It was advertised as “The Biggest Little Meal in London!”