Updated date:

The Birth and Brief History of Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chuck Lyons lives in upstate New York with his wife Brenda and a golden retriever named Jack who chases ghosts and barks at shadows.

the-birth-and-brief-history-of-chocolate-chip-cookies

For more than 80 years the chocolate chip cookie has been the main after-school treat of many of the world’s children and one of the most sought after the snacks the rest of us. But like many of the life’s great discoveries—it came about by accident.

Being Born

In the 1930’s, Ruth Wakefield and her husband Ken were operating the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, where Ruth made the food served to the couple’s guests. She had graduated from the Framingham State Normal School Department of Household Arts in 1924 and had worked as a dietitian and food lecturer before she and Ken bought the inn. But one evening in 1937 as she was making her popular Butter Drop Do cookies, she found herself without any baker’s chocolate, a normal part of the recipe. Frustrated, she substituted pieces of semi-sweet chocolate cut from a chocolate bar thinking the chocolate pieces would melt and make all-chocolate cookies.

They didn't.

The small pieces of chocolate only softened, and with that the chocolate chip cookie was born.

and Growing

The newly-invented cookie made its national debut in the 1938 edition of Ruth’s cookbook Toll House Tried and True Recipes. She called her invention the "Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie." As the cookie’s fame spread, one chocolate bar manufacturer first included a small chopper in its package of semi-sweet chocolate so home chefs could cut their own chocolate chips and then in 1939 started producing small pieces of chocolate—actual chocolate chips—and printing Wakefield’s chocolate chip cookie recipe on their packages.

The fame of Wakefield’s cookies spread.

“Wakefield’s cookie was the perfect antidote to the Great Depression,” one historian wrote. “In a single inexpensive hand-held serving, it contained the very richness and comfort that millions of people were forced to live without in the late nineteen-thirties. Ingesting a warm chocolate-chip cookie offered the eaters a brief respite from their woe.”

World War II helped spread the cookie’s fame as US soldiers from Massachusetts received chocolate chip cookies in packages from home and shared them with their buddies. Wakefield was deluged with letters and telephone calls from the wives and mothers of soldiers wanting her recipe so they could send their men folk some cookies.

Wakefield died in 1977, but her cookie’s popularity continues to grow.

A recent survey revealed that more than half of Americans (53 percent) preferred the chocolate chip cookie to any other, and chocolate chip cookies account for a full 25 percent of all cookies baked in the country. There are now at least three national companies selling the cookies in shopping malls, while some hotels, banks, and airlines give them out free to their customers.

On July 9, 1997, the chocolate chip cookie was officially dubbed as the Massachusetts Official State Cookie. The honor had been suggested by a Somerset, Massachusetts third grade class.