FULTON – Some may say it’s biter-sweet. Local author Jim Farfaglia’s latest tome is Nestlé in Fulton, New York: How Sweet It Was.
It will be published November 26 by Arcadia/The History Press
Farfaglia, who has written several other books about the area including the history of Camp Hollis and the Blizzard of 1966, said, “Seeing the factory buildings come down stirred my emotional connection to Nestlé – and I never worked there! I wondered what it was like for those who’d worked for decades at the chocolate plant.”
One of the highlights of his research was learning the steps to making chocolate: from cocoa bean to chocolate bar.
“Fascinating!” Farfaglia told Oswego County Today. “The chapter gives a step-by-step overview of how chocolate bars are made. It was my favorite chapter to research!”
After the introduction: The Smell of Chocolate in the Air, the first chapter deals with “Visionaries: Henri Nestlé, Daniel Peter and the People of Fulton.”
It tells about the inventors of condensed milk and an infant formula, the milk chocolate candy bar and the citizens of the newly formed city of Fulton who rallied to bring the Swiss company to the USA.
In 1898, Switzerland’s Nestle Company was searching for a location to build its first milk processing plant in the United States.
Upstate New York’s bountiful dairy farms sealed the deal for a factory in Fulton.
Soon, another Swiss company requested space at the factory to produce a confection that had taken Europe by storm – the milk chocolate bar.
Over the next century, many classic treats were invented at the factory.
Churning out a million pounds of candy per day, Fulton became known as the city that smelled like chocolate.
Another highlight was researching the chocolate products invented and manufactured in Fulton: the Toll House Morsel, the Crunch Bar, Nestlé Quik.
Nestlé was considered a vital component of the United States involvement with World War II, Farfaglia said.
“At the height of the war, more than half of all products made at the Fulton factory went to our soldiers in war,” he said.
The plant was called a City within Our City due to the immensity of the factory: 60 buildings, a million square feet and 1,700 employees at its peak, the author pointed out.
Other chapters give profiles of those who invented Crunch, Quik and other favorites; High as the Alps in Quality, Nestlé’s insistence on the best quality – workers believed in that and carried it out; Safety issues at the plant – a few humorous incidents – trucks spilling candy bars and some serious (fires at the plant); and a job for life, People worked their whole careers making chocolate – “what a life!”
It was more than a place to work.
Farfaglia dedicated a chapter to tell about how Nestlé took care of its people – awards, banquets, Christmas chocolate boxes and more.
“Of the more than 75 people I interviewed, every one said it was like a family there. Great stories,” he said.
In the last chapters, he addresses the closing of the plant and its impact on Fulton and former workers’ reactions to the plant being torn down.
Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward worked at the plant as a teenager – starting by unloading cargo ships of cocoa beans in the Port of Oswego Authority.
He later worked on the chocolate-making lines and overseeing some safety issues.
Woodward was reportedly one of the last employees to leave the factory the day it closed. His office contains a variety of Nestle memorabilia.
“I got into collecting stories about local history from writing about my uncle’s muck farms. This led me to interviewing other muck farmers and that was my first book,” Farfaglia explained. “I wrote the Blizzard of ’66 book because I was a 10-year-old kid in the country trapped in the house for a week during the blizzard. I wondered what happened in the rest of the world and asked people.”
In doing research for that book, he got more than 200 responses, “and they’re still coming in!” he said.
“My next book was the full history of Camp Hollis, the camp for all children that actually started as a health camp back in the 1920s,” he said. “I’ll be launching a music blog in 2019 – where I write about certain songs that influenced or impacted my life – one song at a time.”
A book launch kickoff is set for Saturday, December 1 at 3 p.m. at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego.
“I’m available to do programs and presentations about Nestlé history,” Farfaglia said.