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Volunteer Spotlight: Menier and the Chocolate Factory

February hosts a very popular and tasty-sounding celebration: National Chocolate Lover’s Month! In honour of this, our volunteer Susan has written a blog to get your taste buds tingling…

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A recent interesting read from my research at the Archive led me to the discovery of the Menier Chocolate Factory, the largest chocolate factory in France, located on the site of an old small water mill in Noisiel, near Paris. 

Pharmacologist Antoine Brutus Menier founded the Menier Chocolate Factory in 1816, following his discovery of the health benefits of chocolate (including treatments for hysteria), and the way chocolate could disguise the often-bitter taste of medication. Menier was a popular pharmacologist, despite many opposing his lack of certificates. He later rectified this, completing his studies and went on to receive the Ordre National de la Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) in 1842.

Initially Menier produced cocoa powder in a small quantity, but soon the demand for chocolate outran the demand for medicines, so a new factory was needed and a small water mill in Noisiel was bought to produce the cocoa powder, mostly for hot chocolate drinks.

Unfortunately, little is known (according to this guide) about the history of this water mill, but it’s believed to have been used by the locals in the town, up until the time it was sold to Menier.

As chocolate grew more and more popular, and methods for creating solid chocolate developed, the factory was renovated and became the first factory in France to mass-produce chocolate powder using machinery. Menier later introduced blocks – les tablettes – of chocolate to a wide audience, wrapped in yellow paper.

To keep up with production, greater expansions were needed both at the factory and at the cocoa growing estates in Nicaragua. By the mid 1800’s the Menier Chocolate Company was the largest chocolate manufacturer in France, and factories were soon opening in London and New York.

The factory attracted attention from some hugely influential people. One of the factory’s newer buildings was designed and produced by Gustave Eiffel (who designed the Eiffel Tower, among other projects). With stunning architecture, initially built for the Universal Exposition of 1898, one building was taken apart and reassembled at the factory in Noisiel and used to cool the chocolate, ensuring it was ready for transportation.

Amazingly, at its height of production the chocolate factory produced over 125,000 tonnes of chocolate and employed over 1,500 people, which was significant to the development of the small town and surrounding areas.

However, the success could not last. Due to the two World Wars production slowed down, and the company was eventually sold to Nestlé. The main headquarters still operate in the main building, however, which is now a UNESCO heritage site – whilst some of the other original buildings have been transformed into a chocolate museum.

Now who fancies a Kit Kat?