Hershey's Chocolate was once part of US Army soldiers' emergency rations

From the Smithsonian, a photograph marking the Sept. 13, 1857, birthday of Milton S. Hershey, American confectioner, philanthropist and founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company. The company was founded by Hershey in 1894, and produced the first Hershey chocolate bar in 1900.

The U.S. Army’s requirements were quite specific. For troops engaged in a global war, they needed a ration bar that weighed about four ounces, would not melt at high temperatures, was high in food energy value, and did not taste so good that soldiers would be tempted to eat it except in an emergency. This last objective in particular was certainly a new one for the Hershey Chocolate Corporation. Nevertheless, its chocolate technologists came up with something that passed all tests. Named “Field Ration D,” it was so successful that by the end of 1945, approximately 24 million bars were being produced every week. More successful still was HERSHEY’S Tropical Chocolate Bar, a heat resistant bar with an improved flavor developed in 1943. Hershey chocolate bars were a standard part of a soldier's C-rations.

Emergency chocolate, indeed! Part of my C-rations whenever life presents challenges.


  1. Interesting, so the lousy taste was a feature.  I wonder how many other military foodstuffs have the same requirement? 

    Adding artificial fruit flavors to the chocolate is a pretty quick way to get lousy taste, so I commend Hershey on their simplicity and effectiveness in this regard.

  2. My mom worked briefly in the Hershey factory during the war and said they put paraffin into the mix to raise the melting point. She also said all Hershey workers were free to “sample” from the production line and consequently everyone ODed on chocolate after about a week, so losses were kept to a minimum.

    1. A week?

      I worked in a luxury dessert factory for a couple of months before university when I was 18.  On the first day, my mum made me a packed lunch, including a mini chocolate bar.  By lunchtime, I was so sick of the smell of melted chocolate I couldn’t eat it — and the factory used good-quality Belgian chocolate, not vomit-flavoured Hershey’s.

      Some leftovers would be put out in the staff canteen, and hardly anyone could eat the chocolate ones.  The lemon cake was nice, or creamy things.

  3. Hershey’s tasting like vomit is a feature rather than bug. Truth stranger than fiction. Now that they sell to the civil market too, will they be making one that tastes good, or are they going to stick with the vomit?

        1. I’m told few non-Americans enjoy the taste of root beer, too, so right there I’d hold their palates suspect.

          1. Of similar note throughout the world, people in ketchup-eating countries rarely seem to clock how revolting ketchup is (especially modern versions such as Heinz). It really is. It’s heaving with sugar and salt and vinegar and is pretty much uniformly met with disgust in cultures that weren’t fed it their whole lives.

          2. @boingboing-b02d27666964db9258b673accd36c27a:disqus I’ve gotten several of my british friends hooked on root beer (where they formally despised it as tasting “like anti-septic”) by getting them hooked on root beer floats. (Also: corn dogs.) I’m not sure how that one works, except that root beer floats are awesome.

          3. Practically every culture has some kind of food that other cultures find revolting. Italians have a soda called Beverly that is the least-liked product at World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta; Mexicans have pulque. The British eat eels and kidneys, and as an old SNL sketch had it, “most Scottish food is based on a dare.” Et cetera.

        2. Well cheese is basically soured milk, and I loves me some nummy cheese! And Hershey’s chocolate too.

          I read somewhere that in many parts of Asia the locals look on cheese as spoiled milk and wonder how we eat it. Their loss, clearly.

        3.  Yeah, Hershey’s is generally considered utterly vile out here.

          I mean, I’m no fan of Cadbury’s on the whole, but that most Americans who taste their product regard it as revelatory is saying something about the dire quality of Hershey’s “chocolate candy” (legally it is not actually chocolate).

          As someone for who American products arrived in his country in one big push after the decline of a pariah regime, there was much excitement because of brand recognition from movies and so on, and then a sudden puzzlement when Budweiser turned out to be pisswater, McDonald’s was crap compared to local chains,  and Hershey’s turned out to be vomit-flavoured sugarsludge.

          1.  The pity of it is that it lead to the impression that American chocolate is all crappy. (rather than that it’s a rather low end brand). As a native San Franciscan, this caused me some grief as I always felt compelled to defend the honor of Ghirardelli’s.

  4. That’s nothing:

    Chocolates dosed with methamphetamine known as Fliegerschokolade (“airmen’s chocolate”) were given to German pilots, and Panzerschokolade (“tank chocolate”) was given to tank crews.

    In just four months, more than 35 million tablets of Pervitin and Isophan were shipped to the German army and air force. Japanese Kamikaze pilots and German Panzer troops were given large doses of the drug to motivate their fighting spirit.

    “The Greatest Generation” was given large amounts of amphetamines as a way of fighting fatigue and “boosting morale”. The British issued 72 MILLION tablets to the armed forces. American troops had them too – in WWII and Korea.

    USAF pilots *still* routinely take amphetamines to stay alert. The US pilots who bombed the Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan claimed that they were ordered to, or they’d lose their flight status. They blamed the friendly fire on aggressiveness caused by the amphetamines.

    The next time someone offers you some fine German chocolate, ask for airmen’s chocolate or tank chocolate.

      1. Quick check….

        They used dextroamphetamine for 60 years.  The Canadians were bombed in April 2002.  The USAF switched to modafinil in December 2003, in the wake of the incident.

  5. Interesting! So there is a real reason it tastes so bad.
    A colleague has a little bowl of mini bars on his desk. The Krackel ones are OK, and the Dark ones are nice, but I avoid  the regular ones like the plague

  6. One of those Army-issue Hershey bars saved my friend John’s life. Or at least kept him from being an extended POW. In the Korean war, he was shot in the leg and captured by a North Korean patrol. They marched him into their territory, but made camp when it got dark. They put the guard dogs on him and went to bed. The chocolate was in his breast pocket and, despite the engineering, pretty gooey. He opened it up on the ground for the dogs and walked off into the forrest. It took him days and many fever dreams to get back to the friendly side of the line.

  7. “Survival kit contents check. In them you’ll find:

    One forty-five caliber automatic

    Two boxes of ammunition

    Four days’ concentrated emergency rations

    One drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills

    One miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible

    One hundred dollars in rubles

    One hundred dollars in gold

    Nine packs of chewing gum

    One issue of prophylactics

    Three lipsticks

    Three pair of nylon stockings.

    Shoot, a fella’ could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.”

    1. Many years ago, when I first saw Dr. Strangelove at the college movie theater, somebody put together a pack of all that stuff (or reasonable facsimiles thereof), and taped a Xerox copy of it to each seat in the theater so we’d all have one.

  8. To my 21st-century, Trader Joe’s-trained brain, “Tropical Chocolate” implies a much more frou-frou candy bar than what is actually hidden beneath that wrapper. 

    I’m thinking dark chocolate with macadamia nuts, coconut, and maybe some lime zest. 

  9. I remember stirring chocolate C-ration discs in canteen cups filled with hot water, in an effort to make hot chocolate. I remembered it from a Bobbsey Twins book. I think the twins found it tastier than we did.

    1. Apparently that’s the way US soldiers would make hot chocolate also. From what I’ve read the trick is to shave the bar of chocolate with your knife before adding the hot water.

  10. As a boy scout back in the 60s, our troop used to buy military surplus c-rations. The box might contain Spam or such, some kind of cracker or hard biscuit, and often that waxy tropical Hershey bar. Their melt resistance was indeed the best thing about them.

  11. During the Gulf War, Hershey’s also made something called a “Desert Bar” for the military.  They had tons left over, and I remember being able to buy them for almost nothing at discount stores.  I loved them, I was totally addicted to them for some reason.

  12. The Great Wiki has a whole fascinating page on military chocolate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_chocolate#cite_note-1

    “While their attempts to sweeten its flavor were somewhat successful, nearly all U.S. soldiers found the Tropical Bar tough to chew and unappetizing; reports from countless memoirs and field reports are almost uniformly negative. Instead, the bar was either discarded or traded to unsuspecting Allied troops or civilians for more appetizing foods or goods. Resistance to accepting the ration soon appeared among the latter groups after the first few trades. In the Burma theater of war (CBI), the D ration or Tropical Bar did make one group of converts: it was known as the “dysentery ration”, since the bar was the only ration those ill with dysentery could tolerate.”

    Puts a whole new spin on those World War II newsreels of kindly GIs handing out chocolate to starving kids.

    There’s also a huge page at the Hershey archives http://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=26

    “Captain Logan explained his requirements: a bar weighing about four ounces, able to withstand high temperatures, high in food energy value, and tasting just a little better than a boiled potato.Company Chemist Sam Hinkle was charged with developing the bar. The final ingredients were: chocolate liquor, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa butter, oat flour, vanillin. Sugar was decreased and chocolate liquor increased to give the bar a less appealing taste than normal chocolate bars. . . . Normal chocolate is produced at a flowing consistency when warm and all chocolate machinery is constructed based upon this physical property. The Field Ration D could not flow at any temperature.”

    1. Funny, I’d think that decreasing sugar and increasing chocolate liquor would make the bar taste more appealing than the regular Hershey’s.

      I had some of the Hershey’s tropical chocolate in Boy Scouts in the late 60s, and it tasted fine to me, though a bit dry. (On the other hand, as an American kid, I also ate regular Hershey bars…. I’d have to be pretty desperate to eat one today.)

  13. I had someone once tell me soldiers used Heshery Bars as a form of currency, such as when paying prostitutes.

    When I first heard Laurie Anderson’s “Strange Angels”, I thought the line “When I was a Hershey Bar in my father’s back pocket” was a reference to that practice. IIRC, Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues” references it as well.

  14. Wikipedia lists the changes that Hershey made to the recipe over the years, but as was previously mentioned military surplus Hershey Tropical Chocolate bars were available to the public in the 1960s and ’70s. The Vietnam (and possibly Korean conflict) version was somewhat bitter, a little more so than semi-sweet baking chocolate, and had a perceptibly different mouth feel, though not an unpleasant one. None ever went uneaten on any of our camp outs. Our scout leaders did confiscate the little packs of cigarettes that came with the C-rations though.

  15. The tradition continues. At a visit to the Army Transportation Museum (in the ’90s, I think) at Ft. Eustis (Virginia), there was a representation of a camouflaged bunker sort of thing from the first Operation Desert Storm, and Hershey’s had obliged with chocolate bars that wouldn’t liquefy in the constant heat. One was shown — I think it was called a Desert Bar.

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