The Celebratory, Post-WWII Origins Of Hershey's Chocolate Cake

While we may take for granted our ability to buy eggs, milk, butter, and even cake mixes or pre-made cakes today, these items were scarce during the Great Depression and World War II, making cake a luxury few had. While chocolate production increased during the war, Hershey supplied WWII soldiers with chocolate rations, and there wasn't much left at home. Cake mixes and other ingredients also vanished from the shelves. Those at home were encouraged to keep morale up by creating cake-like confections such as the Depression-era "wacky cake" from readily available ingredients, but with no eggs, milk, or butter. 

American homemakers were thrilled when the recipe for Hershey's chocolate cake was distributed at the war's end, since it also signified an end to years of working in factories, rationing foodstuffs, and sending their loved ones off to fight. The cake, made with six Hershey's chocolate bars (which were also back on shelves), thus became a celebration of the war's end and the return of fresh ingredients.

Pre-World War II chocolate and cakes

Although Hershey's chocolate cake boomed in popularity after WWII, chocolate cake in general came to the U.S. long before then. In 1828, the invention of the cocoa press made chocolate accessible to even more bakers, leading to the publication of chocolate cake recipes as early as the 1840s. Recipes were tweaked, and cake history tells us how ingredients like molasses and baking soda were added, eventually leading to the creation of cake mixes in the 1920s.

During WWII, flour manufacturers worked overtime to invent dry mixes that could be used to create cakes and boost troop morale. These cake mixes had to be shelf stable and require water as their only added ingredient. After the war, those at home preferred fresh ingredients in their cakes, so cake mixes were revised again. By the 1950s, almost every baking company had a cake mix on grocery store shelves, but it's doubtful that any of them could incite the joy and relief of the post-World War II publication of a recipe for Hershey's chocolate cake. It meant the terrible wartime events were finally over, soldiers could come home, and bakers could serve their family cake made from fresh ingredients (and chocolate!) again.