Summer diets aside, National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day is August 4!

This history of America's favorite cookie as told by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room team.

Chocolate Chip Cookies (originally known as “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies”) were invented by Ruth Wakefield circa 1938. Aside from being recognized as the creator of this delicious treat, Wakefield is also known for running the Toll House Restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts from 1938-1967 with her husband, Kenneth.  

The reason for the esteemed cookie’s creation varies. Some believe that Wakefield ran out of nuts and substituted small pieces baker’s chocolate, and others think an industrial mixer bumped a shelf with chocolate, while being moved, and caused chocolate to fall into the cookie dough. Perhaps the more realistic story is that Wakefield created the Chocolate Chip Cookie “by dint of training, talent, and hard work”, knowing that the combination of these ingredients would live on as an American classic.   

In 1939, Wakefield sold Nestlé the rights to reprint her cookie recipe on their packages for $1. Story has it that she got free chocolate for life -- not a bad deal in our opinion.  

“Like Spam and Coca-Cola, Chocolate Chip Cookies’ fame was boosted by wartime soldier consumption. Before the war they were a largely East Coast-based fad; after Toll house cookies rivaled apple pie as the most popular dessert recipe in the country.”  -Carolyn Wyman, ‘Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book 
 

Interestingly enough, Wakefield’s Chocolate Chip Cookies also served a patriotic purpose. The dawning of World War II made these cookies more popular with wives, mothers, aunts, nieces, sisters and girlfriends baking and sending them to American soldiers overseas. The Toll House Restaurant sent thousands of Chocolate Chip Cookies for wartime consumption.  

After the war ended, Pillsbury and Nestlé both popularized refrigerated cookie dough while Nabisco, Famous Amos, Mrs. Fields and David’s Cookies eventually sold pre-made cookies in grocery stores in the 1950s.  

“This compulsory school education seems to be failing a large percentage of these children. It’s not coming through on its promise to educate. We’re at the library showing we can create a learning environment in which children can have a good feeling about reading, and we found that they responded in a remarkable way.” - Dennis Martin, Public Librarian 

In 1979, a Los Angeles public librarian named Dennis Martin used Wakefield’s cookie to incentivize children to learn how to read. Martin founded the “Super Reader” program, which rewarded children with Chocolate Chip Cookies for reading library books.  

The results of the three-month program revealed that circulation of children’s books at one of the suburban branches increased by 86 percent, with over 500 children earning cookies. This was particularly exciting news given that, at that time, most children in LA schools did not read at their grade level.  

Although there was controversy over incentivizing reading in this way, Martin’s library program gained the support of public school teachers and helped to change the trend of children’s literacy programs. Reading Clinic Director at CSU-LA, Delwyn Schubert, explained, “I do feel extrinsic rewards have their place... [Youngsters] have to be primed a bit. In Mr. Martin’s case, the cookie is like the primer. Then once the youngster gets reading, maybe he will read for his own sake and the reward will be intrinsic.” 

Martin did clarify saying that the reward program would not fix the root of the reading problem, but that it was a sweet way to start trying.  

Want to bake some your own version of Chocolate Chip Cookies? Try out some of these recipes created by local Charlotteans. Recipe books are housed in the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room on the third floor of Main Library. 

Recipe #1

 

Recipe #2

 

Recipe #3

 

Recipe #4

 

Citations: 

Associated Press. “He Used Cookie Bribes to get Kids to Read.” Charlotte Observer. (Charlotte, NC), May 3, 1979. Accessed July 2019. 

Michaud, Jon. “Sweet Morsels: A History of the Chocolate Chip Cookie.” Culture Desk. The New Yorker. December 19, 2013. Accessed July 2019.  

Public Library of Charlotte Mecklenburg County. Public Librarians Cook Marvelous Creations: Now you can cook like a librarian! Charlotte, NC: Staff Organization of PLCMC, 2002. (NCR 641.59756 P976) 

Roberts, Sam. “Overlooked No More: Ruth Wakefield, Who Invented the Chocolate Chip Cookie.” New York Times. (New York, New York), March 22, 2018. Accessed July 2019. 

The Guild of Discovery Place and Charlotte Nature Museum. Recipes & Reminiscences: Celebrating 50 Years. (Kearney, NE: Morris Press Cookbooks, 2011. (NCR 641.59756 R297) 

The Junior League of Charlotte, Inc. Charlotte Cooks Again. Charlotte, NC: The Junior League of Charlotte, North Carolina, 1981. (NCR 641.59756 M43c J95ca 1999) 

The Junior League of Charlotte, Inc. Dining By Fireflies: Unexpected Pleasures of the New South. Charlotte, NC: The Junior League of Charlotte, North Carolina, 1994. (NCR 641.59756 Dining OVERSIZE)