The History of the Chocolate Chip Cookie. Ruth Wakefield and an Accident at “The Toll House.”

Jerry Anderson December 13, 2015 Comments Off on The History of the Chocolate Chip Cookie. Ruth Wakefield and an Accident at “The Toll House.”

Nostalgia. A backwards glance. The sense of smell is the most evocative of memory in the human being. When I was a kid growing up during the 1950s and 1960s I remember watching commercials on TV for Nestles Chocolate Bars, and Nestles Toll House Chocolate Chips. The cookies shown on the TV then, made from the Nestles Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, still make me hungry when I recollect those images today. Better yet, when I came home from school and my mother had made a batch of chocolate chip cookies I remember the happiness and peace of mind it gave me. This following commercial is very similar to those I saw on my TV.

One of the great inventions of the 20th century was the chocolate chip cookie. It is hard to imagine the world we live in without it. It has become a luscious part of our landscape (foodscape?) of treats we love to consume. But where did it come from? Who made the first chocolate chip cookie? These are questions worth answering. Since I mentioned the chocolate chip cookie in a previous post concerning the history of the Oreo cookie, which is 100 years old this year (2012), I feel it only fair to delve into the history of the chocolate chip cookie as well. I begin by mentioning toll roads built and maintained by private companies during the 18th century. The companies collected a fee (a “toll”) for use of the roads by the public. These toll roads were often very profitable because travel was difficult and it was a time-saving convenience to travel on a well-maintained road.

An example of a stage coach that may have travelled the roads of Massachusetts in the 1700s.
In the 18th century there was an inn located midway between Boston and New Bedford, Massachusetts. The original inn was built in 1709. The road on which the inn was situated was a “toll road,” so while the stage driver stopped at the inn to pay the required tolls, passengers would get off the stage, stretch their legs and get something to eat. The inn survived into the 20th century long after “toll roads” had disappeared from the scene.

A picture of the inn that Ruth and Ken Wakefield bought in 1930. At that time, however, it was in quite a dilapidated state.
In 1930 the Cape Cod-style building was in a state of disrepair but was, nonetheless, bought by a married couple, Ruth and Kenneth Wakefield. They were determined to restore the inn to its original condition and appearance, and to establish it as a popular and charming New England inn where travelers would come to stay and local people would come to eat. The country was descending into the Great Depression, so this was a risky undertaking for the Wakefields. Would people come with economic times deteriorating? They went ahead, with Ken supervising the restoration while Ruth began creating a menu for the restaurant. In honor of the building’s history, they named their inn and restaurant “The Toll House.”

Ruth Wakefield. Her name is virtually unknown, yet she is a significant figure in the culinary/food history of the U.S.
Fast forward to 1933. The Toll House had become very popular with local people and travelers because of Ruth Wakefield’s skill at preparing delicious New England style meals in the inn’s restaurant. One of the items diners at the inn looked forward to having at the end of their meals was a cookie called a “Butter Drop-Do” that Ruth would bring to the table fresh out of the oven. It was a centuries old New England favorite, a cookie made with melted chocolate mixed into the batter to give it a chocolate cake-like texture. It was delicious!

Ruth’s Butter Drop-Do cookies looked very much like these.
Guests at the inn came to expect these scrumptious cookies at the end of their meals, so Ruth had to prepare the batter for these cookies in advance and cook them fresh while people were dining. One late afternoon in 1933 (I have never been able to locate a date for this event) Ruth Wakefield was preparing this cookie batter for the evening’s guests. She went to her pantry to get some baker’s chocolate to melt and add to the batter as per this traditional recipe. Much to her dismay, she discovered that she was out of this ingredient and she became apprehensive, wondering what she was to do when her guests came to the inn’s restaurant expecting the “Butter Drop Dos” at the conclusion of their meals. She had to think fast. As she looked around the kitchen she caught sight of a few Nestles Semi-sweet Chocolate Bars on a sideboard table.

The Nestle’s Semi Sweet Chocolate bar she found in her kitchen had a wrapper similar to this. This is a later version of the wrapper that makes reference to the Toll House. Look closely.
Thinking fast, she decided to break the chocolate bars into small pieces and added them to the batter. Later, when she put them in the oven, she expected the chocolate pieces to melt and dissolve into the cookies while they were being baked. Ruth was expecting the cookies to be of the same look, texture and quality as her previous efforts. When she took them out of the oven she was surprised to discover that the chocolate pieces had remained intact, gooey and sweet, giving these cookies a different look and flavor than her usual “Butter Drop-Do” recipe. Having no other choice, she served these “different” treats to her guests at the end of their meals. They were an immediate sensation. Her guests began wanting these new cookies rather than the traditional ones she had previously served. In order to make these new cookies Ruth Wakefield had to travel into the nearby town of Whitman, Massachusetts, and buy large quantities of Nestles Semi-sweet Chocolate Bars.

Post card image of downtown Whitman, Massachusetts.
She called her new concoction “Chocolate Crispy Cookies.” Another source says she referred to them as “Chocolate Crunch Cookies.” Whatever they were called, they became a Toll House favorite. (NOTE: another source indicates that this story of the invention of the CC cookie took place in 1930, the same year the Wakefields bought the Toll House Inn. The official Toll House Cookie website mentions 1930 as the date the Wakefields purchased the inn, but does not give a specific date for the invention of the cookie itself.) A friend of the Wakefield’s was a lady named Marjorie Mills (pictured below) who happened to be the food editor of a Boston newspaper. Recognizing the popularity of Ruth’s new treat, she printed the recipe for the cookie in her newspaper. She also gave out the recipe to the public when she appeared as a regular guest on a Boston-area radio program. Word spread quickly of this new sweet delicacy. It passed by word of mouth from friend to friend, from baker to baker. The recipe became a local sensation. Stores in the area suddenly were deluged by requests for Nestles Semi-sweet Chocolate Bars. Sales of the chocolate bar skyrocketed.

Marjorie Mills, who would play a crucial role in popularizing Ruth’s new cookies.
The spike in sales of this product did not go unnoticed by Nestles company executives. Nestles had been considering discontinuing its Semi-sweet Chocolate Bar because of poor sales throughout the U.S., but there was an unexplained, dramatic spike in sales of that item in Massachusetts, especially around the Boston area which, of course, included the small town of Whitman. What was going on? They sent someone to the Boston area to determine the reason for this phenomenon. A little detective work led this individual to Ruth Wakefield and the Toll House Inn. This is the point at which the names “Nestles” and “Toll House” became connected in our nation’s food history. And here is a more recent TV commercial (1989) that shows the connection between the “Nestles” brand name and chocolate as a pleasurable “comfort food” in today’s fast-paced, technological culture.

The Nestles Company approached Ruth (other versions of the story say she approached them) and asked her if they could print the recipe for her now regionally famous cookies. They worked out a deal in which the recipe could be printed on the wrapper of each Nestles Semi-sweet Chocolate Bar in exchange for all the Nestles Semi-sweet Chocolate Ruth could use making her cookies for the rest of her life. The Nestles Company even began scoring the bars to make it easier for them to be broken into small pieces in order to make the cookies. The company also invented and marketed a small chopping device to assist bakers in cutting the Nestles Semi-sweet Chocolate Bar into small, cookie-size pieces.

This package of chips/morsels is from 1960. Notice that the large display of a picture of Ruth Whitman’s Toll House, and the prominent presentation of the Toll House name, have not yet been introduced. Compare this to the more contemporary packaging in the next picture.
In 1939, the Nestles Company began marketing packages of small, ready-to-use semi-sweet chocolate pieces as a convenience to the users of their chocolate bar. The Toll House Cookie recipe was put on the package and this marks the birth of what we know of as the “Nestles Toll House Real SemiSweet Chocolate Morsels.” On the front of the package are the words “Toll House”in large letters and beneath them a picture (supposedly) of the Toll House of Ruth and Ken Wakefield. In 1940, the Nestles Company bought the rights to the “Toll House” name and the cookie recipe from Ruth and Ken Wakefield. And despite the many varieties and variations on the chocolate chip cookie that have been introduced over the years, the Toll House recipe remains America’s favorite. On a sad note, the Toll House Inn was struck by fire in 1985 and burned to the ground.

This is the more recent packaging seen on store shelves.
NOTE: The Nestle Company.
The Nestle Company originated in Vevy, Switzerland, in 1867 when Henri Nestle developed a milk-based baby food and began successfully marketing it in Europe. The Nestle name is so closely associated with chocolate because Henri Nestle gave the financial and professional support that allowed a man named Daniel Peter to perfect (in the 1870s) the manufacturing process for making milk chocolate. As a result, the Nestle company expanded into the chocolate business quite successfully.

Henry Nestle of Switzerland.

A 1903 magazine ad for Henri Nestle’s milk based baby food. This product made him rich.

You will eat approximately 35,000 cookies in your lifetime.
Year after year, more chocolate chip cookies are sold in America than any other type of cookie.
It has been estimated that 50% of all cookies baked at home are chocolate chip cookies.
Ruth Wakefield’s original chocolate chip recipe is still printed on the Nestle Semi Sweet Chocolate Morsels package.
The first commercial cookie in the U.S.was Barnum’s Animal Crackers, introduced in 1902. (See my post about the Oreo Cookie for more information on Barnum’s Animal Crackers.)
Americans bake, eat, and spend more money on, cookies than any other nation on Earth. The U.S. spends, for example, $550 million each year on Oreo cookies alone.

The top ten selling commercial cookies in the U.S. are:
1) Nabisco Oreo
2) Nabisco Chips Ahoy
3) Nabisco Oreo Double Stuff
4) Pepperidge Farm Milano
5) Private Label Chocolate Chip
6) Little Debbie Nutty Bar
7) Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream
8) Nabisco Chips Ahoy Chewy
9) Nabisco Nilla Vanilla Wafers
10) Private Label Sandwich Cookies


Chips Ahoy may be the best selling brand of chocolate chip cookie in the U.S, but people still eat more Toll House Cookies than any other because, as mentioned earlier, one- half of all cookies baked in homes each year are Toll House Cookies. Toll House Cookies are not a commercial brand of cookie. They are made in the home, and harken back to an earlier time when most meals and desserts were prepared from scratch.


The official state cookie of the states of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania is the chocolate chip cookie. (This makes sense since Ruth Wakefield invented the cookie in Massachusetts, and, in the case of Pennsylvania, Milton Hershey established his chocolate-making empire in that state.)

The Girl Scouts’ most popular selling cookie is its “Thin Mints,” accounting for 25% of total sales.

August 4th is, officially, “Chocolate Chip Day” in the U.S.

The record for the world’s biggest cookie was set in 2003 when a 102 foot wide chocolate chip cookie was baked that weighed 40,000 lbs. (That’s 20 tons of cookie!!!)

“A 40,000 pound chocolate chip cookie? Where?”

Here is a clip from the TV show “The Cake Boss,” which helped “Sesame Street” celebrate its 40th anniversary. This short segment shows the Cake Boss meeting Cookie Monster and later presenting him with his favorite cookie, chocolate chip of course!

Without realizing it, over the decades the chocolate chip cookie, and chocolate in all its forms, has become firmly embedded in our culture. In 1991 The Chenille Sisters recorded a song called, simply, “Chocolate.” It is a homage to our love of chocolate and makes prominent mention of the chocolate chip cookie. Following are the lyrics to the song so that teachers who are using this in their classrooms, or readers who are simply following my storytelling, can see the amazing and creative way The Chenille Sisters weave a vast number of chocolate treats into the tune. Follow the lyrics while you listen.

by The Chenille Sisters

Chocolate is great, chocolate is grand,
Melts in your mouth, melts in your hand,
Chocolate is love,…mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm.
Chocolate is hip, chocolate is now,
Beans from Brazil. milk from a cow,
Chocolate is love,…mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm.

Please don’t mention the chemical connection
Chocolate makes in my head,
It’s Swiss Miss I’m drinkin-e, it’s Hershey bars I’m thinkin’,
If I can’t be in love I’ll have a truffle instead.
Cocoa is warm, fudgesicles chill,
Whatever the form it’s always a thrill,
Chocolate is love,…mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, chocolate is a big part of our lives.
And we’d like to share with you now our testimonials
In the hope that each and every one of you
Will accept chocolate into your lives.

Each night I dream of hot fudge and ice cream,
Snickers are fine, Milk Duds divine,
Haagen-Daz chocolate chocolate chip is a trip,
I couldn’y surviv-a without my Godiva,
I eat a Chunky when I feel funky,
A Toll House Cookie is better than “nooky.”
N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestles makes the very best,
Chocolate is love,…mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm.


I used this same video in my post called “Montezuma’s Golden Goblet, the discovery of chocolate, a religious controversy and a state secret” about the discovery of chocolate during the early exploration of the New World. I recommend reading it because it will give some background to this post. But read it, mostly, just because it’s a good story.

‘chocolate is love…mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm.”
I leave you with a “Peanuts” cartoon strip.

Are you hungry for a chocolate chip cookie yet? Go on!
I’m on my way to get one now. See ya!

If you want to bake your own batch of Ruth Wakefield’s chocolate chip cookies, from her original recipe, here it is:

Mrs. Wakefields Original Toll House Cookie Recipe

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cups (11-oz. pkg.)
1 cup chopped nuts
PREHEAT oven to 375° F.
COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Done. Bye for now.

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