Wipe That Smile Off Your Face, Soldier

Just because Americans weren’t subject to the same kind of harsh rationing that the Europeans were doesn’t mean World War II didn’t create some unique American chocolate products. The American army was and is unique in the world in that it supplies chocolate to its troops as part of a standard military ration. Indeed since 1937 the U.S. Army has been keenly interested in providing chocolate to men in the field, so long as it doesn’t taste good.

But isn’t that the whole point of chocolate? Not to the military it isn’t. To the armed forces a bar of chocolate represents a compact and portable dose of energy. And why should anyone enjoy that? Rations are meant to be consumed in the field when necessary, not gobbled up for recreation. Thus when the Army first approached Hershey’s way back in 1937 to develop military chocolate bars, they were given specific instructions that they should taste only marginally better than boiled potatoes. I can only imagine what a meeting that must have been. You want us to make what now?

But a contract is a contract, and so in 1937 the first of the famous “Ration D” bars rolled off the production line. Or maybe “rolled off” isn’t quite the right term, since Ration D’s were a lot more laborious to make than standard chocolate bars. For you see one of the other criteria for the bars was that they had to be able to withstand high temperatures — temperatures well above body heat. Thus the bar contained virtually no cocoa butter. But chocolate that doesn’t melt also doesn’t flow so the bars couldn’t be poured in the way that the Hershey company was accustomed to. Each bar was made from a paste of cocoa, oat flour and powdered milk that had to be pressed into a mold by hand and extracted. This gave Ration D bars a texture not unlike soap. The Army was of course delighted. They ordered 90,000. But this was just a foretaste (no pun intended) of what was to come. When World War II broke out just a few years later, production was ramped up significantly to the point that by 1945, Hershey’s was producing some 24 million military bars a week. All in all they produced some 3 billion by war’s end.

But that was by no means the end of military chocolate. For during World War II another product was developed by Hershey’s for hotter, moister climates. This they called the Tropical Bar. It had no cocoa butter in it whatsoever (NB all you Keepin’ it Real-ers: they still called it chocolate) and was shipped to troops fighting in the Pacific. Of course what works for one war will work for another, and so Tropical Bars found their way to Vietnam where troops didn’t eat them so much as fling them at the Viet Cong. Since then there have of course been other wars in other climes. The Desert Bar is popular now as you might expect. And who knows what lies ahead? The Space Bar? The Interstellar Bar? (astronauts did take Tropical Bars to the Moon, I wonder how they worked out?). Wherever there are Americans in conflict, Hershey’s will no doubt have a chocolate to match. Whether you’d want to actually eat the stuff is another matter entirely.

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