Fulton, NY: A History, Podcast Episode 1

Old photo of the Nestle factory

Voice: Kassadee Paulo

Fulton, New York, is a small city filled with lots of history and people to pass on the area’s stories. This is Kassadee Paulo with Oswego County Today, and you’re listening to Fulton, NY: A History – a podcast dedicated to sharing the stories of the historical city. For our first episode, Fulton Mayor Ronald Woodward talks about the old Nestle factory that once contributed to the world’s chocolate production. It opened in Fulton in the early 1900s and closed its doors for the last time in 2003.

Voice: Mayor Ronald Woodward

Well Nestles, they came here late – I think 1899 – but they actually started in 1901. And at the time, he was a Swiss chemist. Actually, chocolate – I mean the history of chocolate started right here. Henri Nestle came here and bought a plant he called Fulton, America, because he was from Switzerland.
And the reason he came here, is because, back in those days, we were still a village. Every house had one or two milk cows. That’s how every family lived. They made their own cheese and stuff. So what Nestle did, because the butterfat content in the milk was so high in this area, he came in and bought up all the milk contracts. But when he came here, he didn’t make chocolate, he made cheese.

So he found out that he had more milk than what he needed for cheese, and where he lived in Switzerland, there was a guy that lived next door to him was a small-time chocolate maker named Daniel Peters. Nestle said to him one day, “Daniel! I own a plant in Fulton, America,” – and back then they didn’t have milk chocolate. See, Peters was in with a guy named Cailler and a guy named Kohler. And later on, that would become the name here, PCK. But he said, “And I have a plant in Fulton, America, where I bought up all the milk contracts for my cheese, but I have too much, but I don’t want to give the contracts up because of money.” He said, “Have you thought about putting milk in the chocolate?” And they did, and it was a great success.
So then, I think it was in 1904 or something, Peters came here with Cailler and Kohler as business partners, and they started making chocolate in the Fulton factory. In 1919, Henri Nestle said, “You know what? There’s a lot more money in chocolate than there is cheese.” So he started making it. Nestle had money. So he ended up buying the rest of it out.
But I can tell ya, even I worked at Nestles and back then when I first got out of high school, and they were called PCK back then. It was Peters, Cailler, Kohler. Their union was PCK Union. A lot of history there.

When I worked there, of course as years went by, technology changed it all, but I dipped conches. Now conches were these big machines and it was really hot in there because the chocolate has to be hot. It has to be mixed constantly or solidifies or it will do what they call ‘bloom.’ It will get white on it. So it has to be constantly mixed until you mold it. And these conches, they were like a big tank. It had an arm going across and on this end there was a big huge steel roller on that end and it went back and forth constantly. We would put the cocoa in there, and cocoa butter, and sugar and all that. And those conches would mix it up until you got the consistency – you got all the grain out of it, so it was just chocolate. And later in years, they did it by machinery that was a lot automated and all that. They didn’t need the conch jumpers, but when I was 18 years old, we were doing that at the time.
My dad worked there until he got drafted in the second World War. When they closed, the year they closed, it really hurt Fulton. Their payroll they year they closed was $24 million a year in this community, that’s what their payroll was. And we had 454 people. In their hayday back in the 80s, they had 1500 people working there, or 1800. That’ll give you an idea. That was a salary where you could make a living. You know, you could buy a home, they had health insurance, you had vacation, holidays. And when that went away, it impacted the City of Fulton big time. And then not too many years later, same thing happened with Bird’s Eye. And that’s because of New York State.
The biggest issue – there was two issues. The cost of power – the cost of electricity at the time here, and I haven’t kept up with it recently, was 40% higher here than it was in Wisconsin. The workman comp here for one employee at the factory was $10,000 a year and theirs was $1,000. So, think 450 employees, how many candy bars do you have to make to start breaking even before you make a profit. So that’s the way you looked at it, and when I found that out, I said, “We’re done. We’re not gonna get the industry back here, not manufacturing to that extent. You know, at that level.”

Voice: Kassadee Paulo
Thank you for listening to the mayor pass on some knowledge of Fulton’s rich history. I hope you enjoyed hearing it as much as I did. There will be another episode up next month so keep an eye out for it! A special thanks to Mayor Woodward for the story.

Music: Traveling to Louisiana by Lobo Loco