The Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie and the American Dream
The story of how America's cookie was invented at a Massachusetts inn and became a quintessential example of the American Dream.
Often it is said that success in business begins by solving a problem. People facing a problem are in need of a solution so you offer yours and — boom — you're in business.
Meeting a need in exchange for some consideration is perhaps one of the most deeply engrained pursuits in humanity. But when the meeting of a need intersects with the passion of experimentation, well there you'll find the true spark of entrepreneurship. The story of the accidental innovation of the chocolate chip cookie is no different.
The Toll House Inn
In the 1930's Kenneth and Ruth Wakefield bought an old house in Whitman, Massachusetts on what was supposed to be the toll road between New Bedford and Boston. The couple planned to leverage the historic location and open the house as a small inn which they named The Toll House Inn.
Ruth was an outstanding host and cook so she had no trouble building a menu for the inns guests which featured many recipes from her grandmother and colonial favorites. Over time, the reputation of the Inn and Ruth's cooking grew to popularity. Guests particularly enjoyed Ruth's desserts. When the Toll House Inn opened, they had but seven tables to host guests for mealtimes. But it wasn't long before that grew to 60 tables!
Ruth's Spark of Entrepreneurship
Passionate about experimenting and innovating her cooking and baking, Ruth spent time testing and improving recipes for her guests. In 1938 with her cooking assistant Sue Brides, Ruth was experimenting with pecan drop cookie dough because she believed she could produce interesting and tasty variations on the recipe which called for half granulated sugar and half brown sugar.
One such variation she hoped to create was a chocolate drop cookie. Her plan was to melt baker's chocolate and add it in to the dough mixture to produce the rich, uniform cookie. But discovering that she had run out of baker's chocolate, she searched her pantry to find a few semi-sweet chocolate bars given to her by Andrew Nestle.
Ruth chopped the chocolate bars into small bits and folded them into the dough hoping they would melt into the dough while they baked. They did not.
The Innovation of the Chocolate Chip Cookie
Of course, we know today that the semi-sweet chocolate chunks instead produced a craggily cookie with pockets of melty chocolate wrapped in a buttery dough. Ruth called them Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies.
Guests of the Toll House Inn loved the cookies and began requesting them regularly as desserts and treats from the Inn's kitchen. And word spread. The Toll House Inn featured the cookies and the recipe in advertisements and even produced a new version of Ruth's cookbook including the cookie recipe. Betty Crocker, a General Mills-employed radio host, featured the cookies on her popular radio program.
Bakers across the region began buying semi-sweet chocolate bars from Nestle to produce their own versions of the popular Toll House cookie. As sales increased, Nestle made efforts to meet the demand by pre-scoring the bars to make them easier to cut. But it wasn't long before the chocolate was being packaged in chip form — chocolate chips became the norm.
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Passing On The Legacy
Ruth and her cooking assistant Sue Brides built the Toll House Inn menu and recipes into a regional attraction. And they did what many passionate entrepreneurs do — they included their children in the work and business.
Sue's daughter, Peg, remembers Massachusetts soldiers fighting in World War II being sent care packages from home containing the now-famous chocolate chip cookies. The Toll House Inn began receiving letters from all over the country complimenting the treats. Peg and Ruth's daughter Mary Jane Wakefield worked in the kitchen helping to pack boxes of cookings for shipping overseas as kids.
Ruth, her innovation of the chocolate chip cookie, and the businesses built out of her passion are excellent examples of the entrepreneurship that fuels the American Dream.