The time price of a Hershey bar has fallen dramatically over the past century. For the same amount of time spent working, U.S. consumers can enjoy around ten times as much chocolate as they could a hundred years ago.
Around 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé created the first milk chocolate in Switzerland. Milk chocolate was a luxury item for the rich for the next 25 years. It was the American Milton Hershey who figured out how to make milk chocolate abundant with mass production techniques. He’s the Henry Ford of candy. In 1900 he introduced his chocolate bar, which was priced at 5 cents. It remained at this price until 1969.
According to measuringworth.com, in 1900 unskilled workers earned 9 cents an hour, while blue-collar workers earned around 14 cents an hour. This would make the time price 33 minutes for unskilled workers and 21 minutes for blue-collar workers.
Today you can pick up one of these bars for $1.15 at your local big-box store. Unskilled wages are now closer to $15.25 an hour and blue-collar hourly compensation is around $35.06 per hour. This would put the time price at 4.5 minutes for unskilled workers and at 2 minutes for blue-collar workers. The time price has decreased by 86.4 percent for unskilled workers and 90.8 percent for blue-collar workers. For the time it took to earn one Hershey bar in 1900, unskilled workers would get 7.4 in 2022 and blue-collar workers would get 10.9.
Between 1900 and today, the population of the United States increased by 338 percent, from 76 million to 333 million. Over this same period, personal chocolate abundance increased by an average of around 851 percent—more than 2.5 times faster than population.
In 1900, at a time price of 26 minutes it would have taken 33 million hours of work to earn the money to buy every person in the United States a Hershey’s bar. By 2020, with population increasing by 257 million, it would only take 15.2 million hours. We grew population by 338 percent and reduced the time to give everyone a treat by 54 percent. Quite the accomplishment! Here is another way to look at the growth in milk chocolate abundance in the United States: the red box represents the size of the population level chocolate bar abundance in 1900. It is overlaid on the green box, which represents 2022. Note that abundance grew in two dimensions.
Population level abundance is equal to personal abundance multiplied by population size. Between 1900 and 2022, personal chocolate bar abundance increased by a factor of 9.51 (or 851 percent), while population increased by a factor of 4.38 (or 338 percent). That indicates that population level chocolate bar abundance in the United States increased by a factor of 41.67 (or 4,067 percent). Population level chocolate bar abundance grew at a 3.1 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), doubling in abundance every 22.7 years.
Elasticity in economics measures the change in one variable compared to the change in another variable. Between 1900 and 2022, a 1 percent increase in population corresponded to a 2.52 percent increase in personal chocolate bar abundance and a 12.03 percent increase in population level chocolate bar abundance. Thank you, Milton Hershey, and the millions of other confectionary entrepreneurs, for making life a box of chocolates.