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Dates of existence
Henry Isaac Rowntree acquired the cocoa, chocolate and chicory workshop at the back of a Castlegate shop from Tuke, Waller and Copsie in 1862. The first reference to cocoa within the Tuke family business in is 1785; by the 1860s perhaps their best known product was 'Tuke's Superior Rock Cocoa'.
Larger premises, consisting of an old iron foundry and several cottages at Tanner's Moat were purchased by Henry Isaac in 1864, but the workforce, of about 12 men and the output, of about 12 cwt. per week, were both small. Annual sales amounting, possibly, to only £3,000 were not sufficient to ensure the financial stability of the business. In 1869 Joseph Rowntree, Henry's brother, joined the firm, bringing his sound business sense and his capital with him. A partnership was formed, under the title H. I. Rowntree and Co. Joseph took over the accounting, whilst Henry Isaac managed production.
Sales and profits increased slowly, mainly due to the large number of new lines introduced. The packaging guard book Rowntree/HIR/9/14 offers a striking illustration of the number of different lines produced and sold. The event which brought about a change in the fortunes of the business was the arrival, in 1879 of a Frenchman, Claude Gaget, with a sample of gums. At that date the manufacture of pastilles and gums was almost a French monopoly; but with Gaget's technical skill, Joseph's original ideas and the perfectionism of both, Rowntree's 'Crystallized Gum Pastilles' were a success. Mixings Books and Experiment Books can be found at Rowntree/HIR/7B.
Henry Isaac Rowntree died unexpectedly in 1883, leaving his share in the business to his brothers Joseph and John Stephenson Rowntree. The success of Rowntrees as a cocoa and chocolate business depended on their mastery of the 'Van Houten' process in the manufacture of cocoa butter and cocoa powder. In 1885 Joseph Rowntree engaged Cornelius Hollander, a Dutchman, who claimed knowledge of the process for the extraction of cocoa butter from the roasted nib. Hollander worked in seclusion and never divulged his information to the company. Joseph suspected that Hollander was profiting by fraudulent expenses claims, dismissed Hollander and broke into his workroom to discover the details of the process. Papers relating to Hollander's employment and his subsequent, successful suit for breach of contract can be found at HIR/2/12.
The work of Hollander led to the development of the famous 'Elect' Cocoa, launched in 1887. Rooms were added the premises in North Street (formerly Simpson's Flour Mill, purchased in 1882) for the manufacture of the cocoa, but space remained a problem, as the success of Elect brought an expansion of trade. In 1890 Joseph Rowntree purchased 29 acres of land at Haxby Road and construction of a new factory began, with the Fruit Room and Gum Department the first to move to the new premises, in 1892. The Architect was Frederick Rowntree (formerly of Malcolm Stark and Rowntree of Glasgow) and the builders were J. H. Thorp and Sons of Leeds. A private railway line was constructed to join up with the North Eastern Railway Company's Foss Islands Line. Title deeds and other papers concerning the Haxby Road estate are listed under Rowntree/R/DH/R/20-30; see also papers concerning the valuation of the firm's assets prior to the formation of the limited company in 1897, under Rowntree/R/DH/SR/1-5.
The Rowntree company grew rapidly from small beginnings; the workforce numbered no more than a dozen men when Henry Isaac first acquired the business in 1862 and had increased to 100 in 1880 and over 4,000 in 1910. No man then had any specific job - even the few clerks had at times to take off their coats for labouring work. A general foreman kept the factory keys and also acted as night watchman, as he slept next door. There was no time keeping or wage calculation, each employee kept his own time and at the end of the week the foreman asked each one how much time they had got. Production in the works became divided into departments during the early 1880s, possibly as a result of the manufacture of gums and pastilles, which required different ingredients and equipment. As the business expanded the work and responsibilities of individual employees became confined and defined within a particular area. By the mid-1890s as well as production departments and offices there were managers in charge of storerooms, packing, the railway, engineers, the Drawing Office, purchasing and the chemical laboratory.
By 1894 the workforce numbered nearly 900. The departmentalising of office work began in 1896 as the workload increased and more staff were taken on. In 1897 the firm was incorporated as a limited company, changing its name to ‘Rowntree & Co.’ The men who made up the first Board of Directors of Rowntree and Co. in March 1897 were already established in the firm. Their respective areas of knowledge and responsibility influenced, and are an illustration of the way in which the company was structured prior to the planned re-organisation in the 1920s. John Wilhelm Rowntree was taken into partnership by Joseph in 1889 and was involved in the general conduct of the business, specialising in cocoa and cake chocolate. Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree studied chemistry at Owen's College in Manchester, before joining the firm in 1889, and laid the foundations of the firm's Chemical Department. His primary interest was employee welfare and he later became Labour Director. Arnold Stephenson Rowntree began in the Gum Department, in 1892, but moved to work on Sales and took charge of selling and advertising in 1897. Francis Henry Rowntree studied engineering at Manchester and co-managed the Engineering Department on joining the firm in 1893. John Bowes Morrell came to the cocoa works in 1890, and was put in charge of the Cake Chocolate Department. He then became responsible for the purchase of all raw materials, and in 1898 went to the West Indies to negotiate the purchased of estates in Jamaica and Dominica. Theodore Hotham Rowntree joined the firm in 1891, undertaking accounting and statistical work.
A box making firm owned by a Mr Crooks and situated in North Street supplied packaging for Rowntrees but it soon became impossible for the firm to meet all the requirements of the Cocoa Works. During 1889 and 1890 Rowntrees started to make all small wooden boxes, packing cases and cardboard boxes themselves. Carting of Rowntrees goods to the railway station and materials from the station to the Works was carried out by William Laycock, a carter with the Eastern Railway Company, from 1877 to c. 1892.