The Gross But Life-Saving Chocolate Of WW2

Photo Credit: George Rinhart/ Getty Images

Chocolate lovers tend to obsess over this treat’s yummy taste. However, chocolate has not always had such a great taste. Hershey’s developed some chocolate bars during the Second World War with the purpose of not tasting great. The Field Ration D bars, while not tasting great, contained life-saving ingredients if soldiers needed them. 

World War I soldiers eating chocolate
Soldiers from the First World War snacking on chocolate. (Photo Credit: George Rinhart/ Getty Images)

Origins

In April 1937, Captain Paul Logan from the office of the U.S. Army Quartermaster General met with Hershey Chocolate Corporation President William Murrie and chief chemist Sam Hinkle.

Captain Logan was looking for a life-preserving chocolate bar that could be given to American soldiers in conflict. More specifically, he was looking for Hershey to manufacture a pocket-sized bar that could survive high heat and provide soldiers with lots of nutrients quickly.

The kicker? This chocolate bar shouldn’t taste any better than “a boiled potato.” 

Hershey's Factory
Hershey’s Chocolate factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Joe Sohm/ Visions of America/ Getty Images)

Murrie and Hinkle brought this prospective business deal to Milton Hershey, who was very interested in this project. They got started right away on developing Logan’s vision.

Field Ration D Bar

Logan had four main requirements for the Field Ration D Bar. It must weigh four ounces, have a high caloric value, and withstand high temperatures, all while ensuring it not be too tasty. The final result developed by Hershey was called the “Field Ration D Bar.” It was essentially a blend of chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk powder, and oat flour. Each four-ounce chocolate bar contained 600 calories.

The mixture created was essentially a heavy paste that had to be pressed rather than poured into molds. The chocolate bar was so dense that the instructions attached to the bar suggested that the bar should be eaten slowly, over the span of about half an hour. 

Portrait of Milton Hershey
Portrait of Milton Hershey, founder of Hershey Chocolate, circa 1923. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

However, after the United States entered the Second World War, Congress planned to shut down the candy industry for the duration of the conflict, deeming the industry non-essential.

In an attempt to keep his business operating, Milton Hershey argued that Hershey’s chocolate was an essential source of nutrients for American troops. Thus, the bulk of Hershey’s wartime production was aimed at producing chocolate for the American forces.

D Ration Chocolate Bar
The Army Field Ration D Chocolate Bar. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Center of Military History / Wikimedia Commons)

Although Hershey’s was producing a large amount of Field Ration D Bars during the Second World War, American soldiers were certainly not the biggest fans of them. Soldiers jokingly nicknamed the bars “Hitler’s secret weapons” due to the chocolate bars’ effect on their digestive systems.

Soldiers were also known to trade these chocolate bars for better tasting food with unsuspecting civilians who were not well acquainted with the chocolate. 

Nonetheless, even though the taste of the Field Ration D Bar was not popular among soldiers, in 1942, Hershey’s won an Army-Navy “E” Production Award. This was a prestigious award given to companies and factories during the Second World War for excellence in the production of top-quality war equipment for the American military. 

Hershey’s Tropical Bar 

In 1943, the United States Army once again approached Hershey’s about the possibility of developing a new chocolate bar that could be eaten in the Pacific theater of the war. The goal of this new chocolate bar was to withstand high, tropical temperatures and taste a little bit better than the Field Ration D Bar.

Hershey Tropical Chocolate
Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate. (Photo Credit: Hershey Chocolate Corporation/ National Museum of American History)

The Hershey’s Tropical Bars were one- or two-ounce pieces of chocolate that could hold their shape after one hour in 120 degrees Fahrenheit weather. The Tropical Bar was made from many of the same ingredients as the Field Ration D Bar, but also included vitamin B-1. Vitamin B-1 helped prevent beriberi — a condition common to troops in the tropics that resulted from a B-1 deficiency that could cause nerve, heart, and muscle damage, as well as overall weaknesses. 

It is estimated that by the end of 1945, over three billion Field D-Ration Bars had been produced and distributed to soldiers all over the world. Similarly, by the end of the Second World War, almost 38o million two-ounce Tropical Chocolate Bars had been produced for the United States military.

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In fact, in July of 1971, Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate Bar went to the moon with the Apollo 15 astronauts. Although these chocolate bars might not have had the best taste, they sure were widespread.